Sunday, April 14, 2024

Congressman’s Support for Andover Amtrak Station Could Put Blairstown Stop in Jeopardy 

At January’s Blairstown township committee (BTC) meeting, Chuck Walsh, the president of the North Jersey Rail Commuter Association, was almost certain Blairstown would serve as an Amtrak stop along the revitalized Lackawanna Cut-Off railway project, slated to be completed by 2028.

A month later, at the BTC meeting held on February 28, he wasn’t so sure.  

Walsh addressed the committee, “Unbeknownst to us, on the 12th of January, Congressman Gottheimer wrote a letter… basically promoting the Andover station site for Amtrak on the Lackawanna Cut-Off for the train service.” 

Josh Gottheimer, congressman for northern Sussex County, met with Amtrak officials in August of 2023 to discuss a potential stop in Andover and has been an advocate for rail service restoration in previous years. Despite this meeting and talks with the congressman, when the Federal Railroad Administration announced that the Lackawanna Cut-Off would be included in the Federal Corridor Identification Development Program, it left Andover off the map.

“We haven’t seen a copy of the letter,” stated Walsh about the correspondence sent to Stephen Gardner, the CEO of Amtrak, and New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy. Although reports suggest Gottheimer is advocating for Andover to simply be added as an Amtrak stop, Walsh is skeptical. 

“Knowing some of the history and the folks at Andover…the intent, in my opinion, is to not just add on, but to replace [Blairstown] if they could.” 

Blairstown township clerk Kristin Shipps said she has called Gottheimer’s office four times in an effort to obtain a copy of the letter. Township attorney Kevin Benbrook, suggested the township committee should reach out to New Jersey State Sen. Doug Steinhardt for support of a Blairstown Amtrak station. Deputy Mayor Walter Orcutt stated he would speak with Blairstown’s congressman, Tom Kean. 

NJ Transit is currently extending its line from Lake Hopatcong now ending in an Andover station. Infrastructure and a parking lot are already under construction. Walsh calls Gottheimer’s demand of an Amtrak station “double dipping.”

Committee member Charles Makatura suggested that creating an Andover station, while eliminating one in Blairstown, may allow the train to maintain its peak speed of 110 mph for a longer stretch of railway.

Walsh claims this would save the train five minutes. 

“You could start taking all the stops away and you could get to Scranton in two hours and 30 minutes, but you don’t have anyone riding it because it doesn’t stop anywhere.” 

The current plan calls for trains slotted to carry 470,000 riders and complete three round trips each day. The trains will stop in East Stroudsburg, Pocono Summit, Blairstown, Dover, Montclair, Morristown and Newark. 

Amtrak has made no statement regarding the addition or removal of any planned stations. According to Walsh, a Blairstown station could draw riders from across the Pennsylvania border in Mt. Bethel, Portland and Bangor. 

Walsh concluded his update stating, “At this point, nothing has been done and we haven’t heard anything. I think Blairstown deserves a stop.”  

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Alex Tironi, Contributing Writer
Contributing Writer

A recent graduate of George Mason University in Virginia, Alex pursued a degree in journalism with a double minor in American Sign Language and nonprofit studies. She worked as assistant news editor to the Fourth Estate, the university newspaper where she reported on many things but mostly focused on campus crime and PD activity. While working for a nonprofit called the Borgen Project, she wrote about global health and poverty in third-world nations. Alex recently finished an internship writing and editing for a business consulting company in NY. Growing up in the area, she has always been active in her community and brings the same intention as a contributing writer for the Ridge View Echo.