NJT Signs Contract for Cutoff Construction, but It’s No More than a Baby Step

At its April 13 Board meeting, the first “in-person” meeting in more than 2 years, NJT approved a $32.5 million contract for rehabilitating the Roseville Tunnel, located along the former Lackawanna Cutoff right-of-way, west of Port Morris Yard. The project is part of an effort to restore service on 7.3 miles of new track west of Port Morris (less than 8.3% of the former 88-mile line between Port Morris and Scranton), to a 55-space park-and-ride station in Sussex County’s Andover Township.

An NJT press release said, “The Rehabilitation of the Roseville Tunnel is a crucial element in restoring passenger rail service from Port Morris to a new station in Andover,” and touted the eventual return of service to the state’s Northwestern county, but current plans call for a low-capacity station and service during commuting-peak-hours only. The release made no mention of eventual service to Scranton.

Elected officials and rider-advocates have expressed a desire to see service extended through the Pocono Mountains to Scranton, the historic headquarters of the Lackawanna Railroad. The last scheduled passenger train stopped there in January 1970, and the final passenger train of any kind was a test train operated by Amtrak in 1979. The track on the line in New Jersey was removed in the mid-1980s, and efforts to bring passenger trains back to it have continued since that time, but to no avail. The Lackawanna Coalition and the New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers (NJ-ARP) have consistently called for trains to Scranton and, someday, to Binghamton and further west along New York State’s Southern Tier. Four House members who represent districts in the area that would be served by the Cutoff have also expressed their support for future service to Scranton.

The proposed Andover park-and-ride would lie about ¼ of the way from Port Morris to the State Line at the Delaware Water Gap. Although the right-of-way is intact, all track has been removed. The track is intact on the Pennsylvania side, but it must be rebuilt to support passenger-train speeds. It currently hosts occasional slow-speed excursions from the Steamtown railroad museum in Scranton.

At one time, NJT proposed rebuilding the Cutoff line and instituting service to Scranton. Nothing has happened with that plan (beyond the proposed Andover park-and-ride, anyway) for years, although Amtrak has proposed service on the Cutoff as part of its 2035 plan released last spring. Amtrak plans call for 3 round trips per day, but time will tell if the tracks are actually restored in New Jersey and upgraded in Pennsylvania, and trains actually run again.

NJT board member James Adams broke with other board members on the contract issue, claiming that it would not be cost-effective. Given the agency’s current goal of getting only to the proposed park-and-ride in Andover Township, his concern appears reasonable. The cost-effectiveness of the Roseville Tunnel project and the first 7 miles of track might appear different if they went with a commitment to restore service all the way to Scranton through Stroudsburg and other towns in the Poconos, but that is not currently part of the budget item.

Through the years, a number of advocates who had pushed for Scranton trains died while waiting for those trains to return. The big question is now whether there will be passenger trains to Scranton again someday, or whether a 55-space parking lot is as far as new service will go.

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