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UPDATE: Next stop, train service restoration in Northeast Pa.

Map of the New York Scranton Rail Corridor
Amtrak Preliminary Service Plan and Financial Analysis
Map of the New York Scranton Rail Corridor

Reestablishing direct passenger rail service between Scranton and New York City is just a few stops away.

"This will be truly transformative and the start of a new chapter for the Scranton/Northeastern Pennsylvania region," said Tyler Kusma, executive director of the Scranton Rail Restoration Coalition.

U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright and U.S. Sen. Bob Casey announced today that the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has included the Lackawanna Cut-off Route in its Corridor ID Program. The Pennsylvania Northeast Regional Railroad Authority (PNRRA) and other transportation entities will receive funding to plan the restoration of rail service on Amtrak trains between the two cities. They will also be first in line to receive money for any needed construction on the route.

"It's going to bring industry, it's going to bring jobs, it's going to provide new service to colleges, to medical facilities," said Larry Malski, president of PNRRA.

PNRRA representatives will now start meeting the FRA to create a service development plan, said Malski. The authority will ask for preliminary engineering, environmental approvals, operations and financial planning, and ridership cost estimates, among other items.

The authority paid Amtrak $400,000 to do a comprehensive analysis of the route, which researched much of that information. Malski believes that's going to put the local project ahead of others that were also accepted into the Corridor ID Program.

"We'll be able to get to construction funding, which is the main goal now, as quickly as possible," he said.

There are nine stations between Scranton and Penn Station in Manhattan. The trip is estimated to take 2 hours and 50 minutes. Amtrak will run three trains each way everyday. The cars will have full dining service and WiFi, among other amenities.

"These trains are not like commuter cars," said Malski. "They're basically an extension of your office. You can get up walk around, it's a much better quality of travel."

Service ceased between the cities in 1970. Efforts started popping up in the 1990s to restore the service. Throughout the years, many elected officials, including state representatives and senators and mayors, have been advocating for the restoration. Casey and Cartwright are among those steadfast supporters.

“I have fought to restore Scranton rail service for my entire career as a United States Senator, including voting to pass the infrastructure law, because bringing passenger rail service back to my hometown and to our region will be a game-changing force for our economy, our families, and our communities," Casey said in a press statement.

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg called both Cartwright and Scranton Mayor Paige Gebhardt Cognetti to personally give them the news.

“We now have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do something transformational for the economy and quality of life in Northeast Pennsylvania," said Cartwright in a press release. "Connecting our region to major metropolitan areas in a seamless, passenger-friendly system will drive tourism, boost local business opportunities, and encourage investment across the district."

Cognetti said the city is grateful to the federal delegation for working hard to pass the infrastructure law and keeping this project on the front burner.

"We are grateful to President Biden for understanding the importance of this passenger rail link for Scranton’s future growth," Cognetti added.

Train tracks at the Steamtown National Historic Site in Scranton
Aimee Dilger
WVIA Photo
Train tracks at the Steamtown National Historic Site in Scranton

Kusma's advocacy group harnesses the energy of all of the supporters of returning rail service to the region. They put out a petition last year asking to support the Lackawanna Cut-off restoration. It received over 10,000 signatures.

"This is like a true pinch me moment," he said of the announcement.

They project has a broad range of support from the community, Kusma said.

"There are young people, Gen Z, who love taking the train. You got older residents who remember when there was a train 50 years ago, you got the business community, multiple chambers of commerce, who support this because they realize the impact that we'll have for tourism and economic development in our area," he said.

PNRRA owns all of the track between Scranton and the Delaware Water Gap.

The route will not only benefit the tourism industry in the Poconos but also the economy, said Chris Barrett, president/CEO of the Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau.

“This reestablishes our place as a premier tourism destination," he said. "It's really just opening up a whole new market for Northeastern Pennsylvania, not only the Poconos, but for the Scranton region as well."

New Jersey Transit owns the line from the Delaware River to Newark. Amtrak owns the rest of the route into Penn Station.

Malski said the original service between Scranton and New York City brought people to the region.

"So many of our ancestors came on that route for seeking jobs and working in the resorts and working in the coal mines and working in all the industries that were in Northeast Pennsylvania," said Malski. "So it's kind of a rebirth of our heritage."

Malski rode on the last train between Scranton and Hoboken, just across the Hudson River form New York City, on Jan. 5, 1970.

"Those were tough times for the rail industry," he said.

The railroads were going bankrupt and highways and the airports were being heavily subsidized with federal funding.

Restoring the service has been 40 years in the making, Malski said.

"We had a lot of critics and naysayers along the way. But our goal all along was to go with the majority of the people in groups and entities that called us and supported us ... saying 'this is something worth pushing for'," said Malski. "The perseverance has finally been successful.”


January 1970: The last Erie Lackawanna Railroad passenger train left Scranton for Hoboken.
May 1971: Congress creates Amtrak to be the nation’s rail operator.
1990s: Serious planning begins to restore service between Scranton and Hoboken.
May 2006: The Lackawanna and Monroe County railroad authorities merge to form the Pennsylvania Northeast Regional Railroad Authority (PNRRA).
January 2008: U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D, sent a letter with Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-NY; then-Senator Hillary Clinton, D-NY; and then-Senator Arlen Specter, R-PA, in support of a passenger rail service between Scranton and Binghamton, New York, that would connect to existing service through to New York City. Casey also sent a letter to the Federal Transit Administration requesting information on plans to begin the Lackawanna Cut-off project.
April 2009: Casey led a letter to then-President Obama asking for continued support in the creation of the passenger rail service.
January 2010: Casey wrote a letter to then-Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation Ray LaHood to emphasize the need for more funding to restore the Lackawanna Cut-off; Casey also met with LaHood to discuss increased financial support for the project.
November 2012: Matt Cartwright, a Democrat, is elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, with a long-term goal of restoring passenger rail service.
2017: Cartwright helped PNRRA secure funding for a rail study on costs, feasibility, ridership and environmental impact.
February 2019: The Scranton Rail Restoration Coalition was founded.
May 2021: Cartwright founded the Lackawanna Cut-off Rail Restoration Caucus in Congress, which included members Susan Wild, PA; and Mikie Sherrill and Josh Gottheimer, both of New Jersey.
June 2021: Amtrak released a study that identified 39 passenger rail corridors that they believe could be successful, the Lackawanna Cut-off, which would be past of Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, is included in that study
November 2021: Congress passes the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which includes $66 billion for improvements to national rail lines over the next five years.
April 2022: Global lifestyle brand, Margaritaville, announces a $3 billion investment in the Poconos, which includes providing land for an Amtrak station.
June 2022: The Pennsylvania Northeast Regional Railroad Authority files a formal expression of interest with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to restore the service between Scranton and New York City.
July 2022: Then PA-Gov. Tom Wolf agrees to provide $3.7 million matching funds for the purchase of 43,000 railroad ties to upgrade tracks on the Pennsylvania side of the line.
December 2022: Mayors in PA and NJ, along the Lackawanna Cut-off Route, send a letter to President Joe Biden expressing their support for the proposed rail route.
January 2023: Governor Josh Shapiro is introduced to the project and offers support.
March 2023: PennDOT submitted an application to the Federal Railroad Authority’s Corridor ID Program to fund the passenger train service between Scranton and New York City. The local railroad authority and New Jersey Transit Authority were cosigners; also, Amtrak releases the details of a two-year study examining restoring the rail service.
August 2023: Amtrak Vice President of Network Development and the railroad’s technical staff visited the Lackawanna Transit Center in Scranton and other key landmarks along the Scranton-to-New York City passenger rail route. Also, Democratic state House members hold a hearing in Scranton focused on rail service.

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.

You can email Kat at katbolus@wvia.org
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