Federal OK gets rail line rolling
Lackawanna Cutoff in line for funding
The first phase of a long- planned commuter rail line in northwestern New Jersey has won federal environmental approval, but it still will be many years before any passengers board trains on the Lackawanna Cutoff line, officials said.
The Federal Transit Administration this week announced it would make a "finding of no significant impact" for the first 7.3-mile segment of the Lackawanna Cutoff, from Andover Township in Sussex County to Port Morris in Morris County.
That finding, announced by Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R- 11th Dist.), clears the way for the start of design of the estimated $36.6 million first stretch of an esti mated $551 million plan to revive a long-defunct 133-mile passenger rail line between Hoboken and Scranton, Pa. If the line is revived, it would link to New York City's Penn Station by connecting to NJ Transit's Montclair-Boonton and Morris & Essex trains.
Joe Dee, a spokesman for NJ Transit, said the long-awaited federal decision clears the way for the receipt of federal funding on the first portion of the project. The next step, he said, would be preliminary engineering and design.
"But it's very early in this game," said Dee. "We're not going to have trains running in the near future."
Dee stressed that after engineering and design, the project would have to go out to bid. Then it would take an estimated two to three years to construct the 7.3-mile segment.
In July, the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority approved the 7.3-mile Sussex-Morris section of the project as the "minimal operable segment" of the line, putting it on track for potential federal funding.
Proponents of the plan see it as necessary to remove cars from congested Route 80 in New Jersey. Op ponents say it would cause more sprawl and traffic in Sussex and Warren counties and the neighboring Poconos, and would not remove cars from Route 80.
Frelinghuysen this week called the announcement "a critical step forward."
"With gas prices around $4 a gallon, it is important to give commuters greater, more reliable mass transit options," he said.
In the early part of the 20th century, the Delaware Lackawanna and Western Railroad constructed a level-graded route from Roxbury to just over the Delaware River to serve as a faster, direct route between existing rail lines in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The Lacka wanna Cutoff, as this route was known, includes a series of unique features, including viaducts and massive fill embankments.
But in the 1970s, Conrail aban doned the right of way and the track was removed.
The current objective is to reinstitute passenger rail service on the abandoned rail right of way of the Lackawanna Cutoff and over exist ing freight right of way in Pennsylvania. Proposed stations would be in Blairstown and Andover in New Jersey, and Scranton, Mount Po cono, Analomink and East Stroudsburg in Pennsylvania.