Return of passenger rail from Scranton to NYC takes big step forward

Dec. 6—SCRANTON — U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright on Wednesday said he will attend a public information session and “Rail Rally” hosted by the Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau to share next steps and answer questions about plans to re-establish passenger rail service between Scranton and New York City.

The event is slated for Dec. 19, at 6 p.m. at the Kalahari Convention Center in Pocono Summit. Local and state officials will also be in attendance.

On Tuesday, the Federal Railroad Administration announced the region’s application to enter the Corridor Identification and Development program was approved. This is the federal government’s official priority list for new passenger rail service, made possible by the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which Cartwright helped pass and it allocates some $66 billion for improvements to national rail lines over the next five years.

“We now have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do something transformational for the economy and quality of life in Northeast Pennsylvania,” Cartwright said. “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.”

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton joined Cartwright in making the announcement.

“For generations, passenger rail service helped Northeastern Pennsylvanians connect with loved ones, get to school and work, and access economic opportunity and recreation,” Casey said. “In turn, residents of other states helped to stimulate our economy and visited our region to see the best of what we have to offer.”

Cartwright, D-Moosic, said he has made restoring rail service one of his district priorities since assuming office in 2013.

“This is a moment so many have been working toward, and I’m excited we’ve reached this point in our collective efforts to get passenger trains rolling again,” Cartwright said.

The proposed service would utilize upgraded existing tracks in Pennsylvania between Scranton and the Delaware Water Gap, 20 miles of restored tracks on the “Lackawanna Cut Off” route in between Delaware Water Gap and Andover, New Jersey, and also existing tracks owned and operated by NJ TRANSIT and Amtrak in between Andover and New York City.

Cartwright said service could potentially begin as early as 2028, once design work and construction is completed by PennDOT, NJ TRANSIT, the Pennsylvania Northeast Regional Railroad Authority, and the counties involved — all with support and funding from the federal government.

Cartwright’s office provided a few items about what the new rail service would look like:

—Multiple round-trips per day with travel time of approximately two hours and 50 minutes between Scranton and New York City.

—Trains will travel at a maximum speed of up to 110 mph on the restored.

—Lackawanna Cut Off track and are expected to transport as many as 470,000 riders per year.

—Stations would be located in Scranton, Mt. Pocono and East Stroudsburg. In New Jersey, service would eventually connect to the major north-south hub of Newark and then continue on to New York City.

What’s next?

—Stage One: Scoping/Project Planning ($500K provided by the federal government)

Now that NEPA’s proposed corridor application has been selected for Corridor ID and Development, the federal government will provide necessary funding to begin developing the scope, schedule and budget.

—Stage Two: Service Development Plan (federal share of funding 90%)

This stage requires a detailed project schedule, ridership and revenue forecasts, cost estimate, station areas and route options, and labor and fleet planning.

—Stage Three: Preliminary Engineering and Environmental Review (federal share 80%)

Sponsor completes environmental review in coordination with FRA for capital projects. Capital projects that complete Stage Three will be prioritized for federal construction funding under FRA’s Federal-State Partnership Program.

Why project is ready to move forward

—The proposed corridor will connect three of the 100 most populated metropolitan areas in the United States: New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA Area (1st), Newark, NJ-PA (44th), and Scranton-Wilkes-Barre, PA (100th).

—This project has long been part of Pennsylvania’s and New Jersey’s state rail plans.

—Significant recent studies were completed so that the project can advance quickly, including a study conducted by Amtrak that details proposed station stops, schedule options, anticipated ridership, associated financial impacts, and preliminary equipment/facility requirements.

—Amtrak has also completed a complete economic impact analysis that concluded restoration of rail service will generate $84 million in new economic activity annually.

—Early environmental studies have also found No Significant Impact (FONSI) for the corridor.

—Portions of the defined route already exist as passenger rail, and this corridor is wholly government-owned and without any private freight rail entanglements or restrictions to delay immediate development.

—The Project has support from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Amtrak and all the local communities it touches.

—PennDOT and co-applicants have already made significant investments in the Corridor, and planning and development efforts are ongoing. PennDOT also has a long history of delivering large-scale intercity rail capital projects.

Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.

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