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Celebration honors the past and future of rail service in NEPA

In the 1980s, members of what would become the Pennsylvania Northeast Regional Railroad Authority (PNRRA) started meeting with people in church basements, fire halls and garages.

That was the early days of the grassroots movement to bring rail service back to Northeastern Pennsylvania.

On Tuesday, hundreds of people, including many local elected officials, gathered at Kalahari Resort in the Poconos to celebrate restoring rail service in the region.

"To see the culmination of it all here tonight is really, really something astounding," said Larry Malski, president of PNRRA.

The Lackawanna Cut-off — a route between Scranton and New York City with stops in the Poconos — was accepted into the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) Corridor ID Program. The program identifies rail projects that will be first in line for funding from the historic federal infrastructure bill.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, PNRRA and New Jersey Transit applied to be part of the program.

PRNNA worked with Amtrak to create a service development plan for the route. Three trains will run each way, every day. The total time it will take to get from Scranton to New York City is 2 hours and 50 minutes.

Eliot Hamlisch, executive vice president and chief commercial officer of Amtrak, spoke during the event organized by the Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau.

"The increase in tourism and excitement about rail travel that we're seeing here in Scranton is really reflective of what we're seeing across the country," he said.

Hamlisch said 28.6 million customers rode Amtrak trains in 2023, a nearly 25% increase in ridership from the previous year.

"Fueled in significant part by growth on the Northeast Corridor, ridership is continuing to boom," he said.

The Lackawanna Cut-off will be part of that corridor.

U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright and U.S. Sen. Bob Casey were instrumental in progressing the train project to this point. During the celebration, Cartwright answered some frequently asked questions, including when the project will be completed.

"The end of 2028 is my best estimate," he said.

As far as cost of a train ticket, Cartwright said a similar rail service runs between Boston and Portland, Maine. It costs $42 round trip. Amtrak also offers a monthly pass for $349.

The FRA's Corridor ID Program features three-steps. The local authorities are already meeting to begin that process, said Malski. They will work with the FRA to figure out a service plan and construction costs.

The Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau will feature a question and answer section about the train at https://www.poconomountains.com/scranton-poconos-nyc-passenger-rail/.

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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