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Amtrak official raises hopes for Scranton to NYC passenger train during Monroe County economic outlook summit

Courtesy East Stroudsburg University
Amtrak Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer Eliot Hamlisch is seen speaking during at East Stroudsburg University’s Economic Outlook Summit at Kalahari Resorts in Monroe County.

Eliot Hamlisch has only had his current job at Amtrak for eight months.

That makes Amtrak’s executive vice president and chief commercial officer quite different from local leaders who’ve fought for a passenger train between Scranton and New York City for decades.

But Hamlisch did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm of hundreds who came to hear him speak last week at East Stroudsburg University’s Economic Outlook Summit at Kalahari Resorts in Monroe County.

“Okay, this is a map that should look familiar, in part because we're on it,” Hamlisch said.

Massive screens behind him to his left and right showed the proposed train’s route and its stops between Scranton and the Big Apple.

“The Scranton to New York City quarter is one of the most exciting projects on which we're collaborating with our state partners,” Hamlisch said. “Once the project is up and running, we expect to have close to half a million riders per year on the service. Big numbers.”

Amtrak has touted the ridership numbers before, but what Hamlisch’s words and visit really symbolize is something much more fundamental.

Amtrak really wants this project to happen. Each Amtrak official who visits the region to talk about the project says that.

“You're reading that exactly right. We are incredibly excited about this project,” Hamlisch said.

Bob Hay feels Amtrak’s enthusiasm, too. He’s the chairman of the Pennsylvania Northeast Regional Railroad Authority. He’s also one of the local officials who’ve worked on getting the train rolling for decades.

1988, to be exact.

“They're very positive, very positive,” he said.

Amtrak has suggested the train could be up and running by 2028.

“I think that 2028 could be doable, they know better than I do,” Hay said. “We would certainly want it before the end of the decade, but you know, it all comes down to how fast the FRA the Federal Railroad Administration moves and so forth.”

The FRA, PennDOT, New Jersey Transit and an alphabet soup of other agencies that will have a say along the way to restoring a service that ended in January 1970.

During his talk, Hamlisch said he’d like to see the train running before the end of the 20s. After his talk, Hamlisch refused to get more specific.

“Again, tough for me to comment on timeline, but we're here to do all we can to help support,” he said.

For now, Pennsylvania and New Jersey have a lot of planning work to do before construction even begins.

During the interview, Hamlisch pulls out the list. During his speech, he gets a question about what could derail the project.

“To be honest, a lot of different things, right?” he said. “So bringing a project like this to life, it's truly a family effort, right? There are a lot of things that are involved between now and actually running our inaugural run, which we're all sincerely hopeful happens sooner than later.”

The former hotel chain executive said he’s come to appreciate that.

“I've been in the industry for just a few months now. But this is really complicated,” Hamlisch said. “A lot of things need to go right between now and the next handful of years to make sure that this happens.”

Borys joins WVIA News from The Scranton Times-Tribune, where he served as an investigative reporter and covered a wide range of political stories. His work has been recognized with numerous national and state journalism awards from the Inland Press Association, Pennsylvania Associated Press Managing Editors, Society of Professional Journalists and Pennsylvania Newsmedia Association.

You can email Borys at boryskrawczeniuk@wvia.org
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