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Lackawanna Cut-Off progress chugging along

Getting to New York City from Scranton by train will take two hours and 50 minutes.

The train’s been delayed for decades but with another chance at federal funding, proponents and passengers might finally get to board.

“This is our best shot in about 40 years to get this kind of funding," said Larry Malski, president of the Pennsylvania Northeast Regional Railroad Authority (PNRRA).

This March the authority is submitting an application to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to restore the train line. The FRA chooses which rail projects will be funded by money included in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

“We will be competing with many other corridors across the entire country, for a chunk of that $66 billion," Malski said.

According to Amtrak, its National Network Map has remained relatively unchanged since 1971. That's when the organization was created by Congress to be the nation’s rail operator. The organization released a study in June 2021 that identified 39 passenger rail corridors throughout the country that they believe could be successful. A local route to New York City — called the Lackawanna Cut-Off line — would be part of Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor.

“So with that we kind of very proactively and aggressively jumped on that and started communications and meetings with Amtrak," said Malski.

The local authority paid Amtrak $400,000 to complete an extremely detailed study.

That study, which is set to be released in two to three weeks, will be a helpful part of their funding application to the FRA, he said.

It looks at how much track upgrades will cost and the train’s ridership numbers. It also gives train schedules: Amtrak is proposing three trains run each way everyday between the Electric City and Penn Station in Manhattan.

The study also identifies stops. After leaving from the Lackawanna Transit Center in Scranton, the train will stop in Mount Pocono, then East Stroudsburg before it heads into New Jersey. There it will stop in Blairstown, Dover, Morristown and lastly in Newark, at a station 10 minutes from the international airport, before terminating in New York.

“It gets you right into Penn Station downtown, straight in the heart of Manhattan, which has always been a desire and a goal of people wanting to go over this route," Malski said.

The railroad authority owns the track between Scranton and the Delaware Water Gap; the New Jersey Transit Authority owns the rest of the track into New York. The Lackawanna Cut-Off is a state-supported Amtrak Rail Corridor, he said. So the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is an important part of the process.

Malski said the train will not be primarily used by commuters but rather those riding for business, recreation, tourism and educational and medical purposes.

“The other major thing that this Amtrak service is going to provide is quality of travel that doesn't exist on any other mode," he said.

Passengers can get up and walk during the ride. There will be food and beverage services for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

On June 15, U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright and U.S. Senator Bob Casey sent letters of support to the FRA. Chris Barrett, president and CEO of the Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau, was among those who signed the letter. He’s remaining cautiously optimistic.

“We know that there is a lot of competition for those federal funds. But I think the region really put its best foot forward in many ways," Barrett said.

Restoring the line will benefit the Poconos and the region, he added.

“That's only going to enhance the folks who don't have ... available transportation to be able to visit us," he said.

The Poconos is seeing a resurgence in tourism, especially with attractions like the outdoor water parks and outdoor recreation opportunities like hiking, biking, boating and skiing, Barrett said.

“We're definitely a four season destination," he said.

The train will give residents an alternative way to visit not just Manhattan and the city’s other four boroughs but it will provide a gateway to major airports and other cities, Barrett said.

“It opens up New York City to us a little bit more from a cultural standpoint. So that's great, I think for for our own region," he said.

Malski said 50 years ago, many of the railroads went bankrupt; taxpayer money was going towards the interstate highway systems.

The last time a passenger train ran between Scranton and near New York was Jan. 19, 1970. Its last stop was in Hoboken, New Jersey, where the word “Lackawanna” still runs vertically down a brown brick clock tower near the train terminal.

The railroad authority has until March 20 to submit its final application to the Federal Railroad Administration to apply for funding for the train. The FRA is expected to make its decision on which projects will be funded by May 23.

Kat Bolus is the community reporter for the newly-formed WVIA News Team. She is a former reporter and columnist at The Times-Tribune, a Scrantonian and cat mom.
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