Democratic state House hearing in Lackawanna County focused on rail service
The story of restoring passenger rail service in the Northeast Pennsylvania region can be summed up in a single word, according to Pennsylvania Secretary of Transportation Mike Carroll- "perseverance."
Carroll, a former local state representative whose district covered parts of Lackawanna and Luzerne counties, was one of four experts who testified on Wednesday, Aug. 30, before members of the House Democratic Policy Committee at the Electric City Trolley Museum in Scranton. The committee, made up of representatives from around the state, was there to hear about restoring passenger rail service routes in Pennsylvania, specifically between Scranton and New York City. State Reps. Bridget Kosierowski and Kyle Donahue hosted the event.
PennDOT took the lead on an application to the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) Corridor ID Program. The program is funded from $66 billion included in the federal bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The local railroad authority and New Jersey Transit are PennDOT’s co-applicants; they should know by November if restoring the Lackawanna Cut-off line is funded. The train will run from Scranton through Monroe County and into New Jersey before ending at Penn Station in New York City.
Restoring passenger rail service into New York City has been talked about for years.
"The key to any project of this magnitude is funding," said Larry Malski, president of the Pennsylvania Northeast Regional Railroad Authority. "And we have never had this level of local, state and federal funding.”
Malski said about 90 applications have been submitted to the FRA for funding.
"We believe we've got one of the best applications in," he said.
During the hearing, state Rep. James Haddock asked Carroll how the train will benefit residents outside of Lackawanna and Monroe counties.
"This is not county specific. This is a regional effort," he answered.
Carroll said ridership numbers will be driven by the people in the Poconos and Monroe County, however: "nobody's checking residency of county," he said.
Malski said it’s not a commuter train but rather a state-supported Amtrak inner-city corridor train. Commuting patterns have changed, he noted, but the Lackawanna Cut-off will provide some residents transportation to work, including some of the over 20,000 residents who live in Northeast PA and work in New Jersey and New York City daily.
Joe Barr from Amtrak also testified on Wednesday.
“Amtrak has been extremely aggressive and extremely supportive of us," said Malski.
An Amtrak study shows that after the third year of service, the Lackawanna Cut-off line will carry 475,000 riders a year, he said. Many of those riders will be from the local colleges and universities.
During the hearing, State Rep. Maureen Madden said many people who live in Monroe County and the Poconos are from New York and New Jersey.
"This is really a long time coming for us," she said. "This is a no brainer."
John Blake, district director and Economic Development Specialist for U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright, also testified.
Blake is a former state Senator. He has advocated for the project to five different governors. Traffic issues on Interstate 80 into New York City were discussed throughout the hearing.
"The irony of this ... is that people ask 'why did service cease in 1997?' Because of the automobile," he said. "And why are we sitting here talking about restoring it? Because of the automobile.”