Lackawanna Cut-Off (NJ Transit)
Lackawanna Cut-Off and mainline into Pennsylvania
The Lackawanna Cut-Off is a New Jersey Transit project that will bring passenger trains back to a line that was abandoned by Conrail in 1983. Initially, NJ Transit (NJT) commuter service will be extended 7.3 miles (11.7 km) from Port Morris Junction at the southern tip of Lake Hopatcong to Andover. Midtown Direct trains will operate between Andover and New York City.
- 1 History (1908–79)
- 2 Early preservation efforts (1979–86)
- 3 Later preservation and restoration efforts (1986-2008)
- 4 Passenger service restoration (2008-present)
- 5 Stations and landmarks (Port Morris–Scranton)
- 6 External links
- 7 References
Built between 1908 and 1911 by the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad (DL&W) to speed service between Hoboken, New Jersey, and Buffalo, New York, the 28.45-mile (45.79 km) Lackawanna Cut-Off was the last main line built in New Jersey. The line was considered an engineering marvel of its day, with deep cuts, tall fills, and two large viaducts that allowed a mostly straight route through the mountains of the state's northwest region. Although the DL&W was profitable for most of its corporate life, competition from trucks and other economic pressures after World War II forced it to merge with competitor Erie Railroad to form the Erie Lackawanna Railroad (EL) in 1960.
EL initially shifted most freight traffic away from the Cut-Off, though it continued to run passenger trains over the line. The railroad's flagship passenger train, the Phoebe Snow, traveled via the Cut-Off until it was discontinued in November 1966, and the last regularly scheduled passenger train ran over the line in early January 1970. In the early 1970s, freight traffic was revived on the line after the closure of a key junction with the Penn Central in Maybrook, New York. But the conveyance of EL into Conrail on April 1, 1976, gave Conrail excess east–west trackage, and service on the Cut-Off ended in January 1979. (Conrail officials later said they might not have abandoned the Scranton Route, including the Cut-Off, if the EL had not severed a section of the Boonton Branch near Paterson, New Jersey, in the early 1960s for the construction of Interstate 80.)
Early preservation efforts (1979–86)
Efforts to preserve the Cut-Off began almost immediately upon the route's closing. In November 1979, Amtrak operated an inspection train between Hoboken and Scranton to investigate intercity rail service between the two cities. Dubbed the "Pocono Mountain Special", the train left Hoboken and ran west on the Morristown Line on November 13, 1979, reaching Port Morris shortly after 9 a.m. With the main line severed at Port Morris Junction, the special train detoured through Port Morris Yard, ran over Port Morris Wye, and then rolled onto the Cut-Off. The train ran to Scranton, where it was met by a group of political dignitaries. It was the last passenger train in the Twentieth Century — and the only Amtrak train — to operate over the entire route. The idea of Hoboken–Scranton service faded as Amtrak faced funding shortfalls and the need for significant track and station repairs in order to run passenger service on the line.
The 133-mile (214 km) inspection trip marked the end of one era, and the beginning of another: a 30-plus-year effort to save and then reactivate the Cut-Off. In the beginning, finding an operator for the line was less pressing than preserving the track and right-of-way itself. Several attempts were made to purchase the line from Conrail, which was concerned that a competitor that might try to restore freight service on the route. The Sussex County Freeholder Board in New Jersey pursued such a purchase.
The Monroe County Railroad Authority in Pennsylvania also got involved, and nearly reached a deal to buy the 88-mile (142 km) section of track between Port Morris and Scranton for $6.5 million. The railroad authority would have borrowed $4.1 million from the federal government at 3.25 percent per annum and issued bonds to cover the rest of the purchase price plus additional unspecified costs to restore the line. The deal would have allowed Conrail to remove about 40 miles (64 km) of track with an option for Pennsylvania, through the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT), to purchase the second track to Moscow, Pennsylvania, for operations out of Scranton's Steamtown National Historic Site. The agreement stipulated that the railroad operator would repay the loan from operational revenue.
In spite of initial optimism, the deal began to fall apart, and on August 10, 1983, the U.S. Department of Transportation informed Monroe County officials that the federal loan guarantee had been revoked and would instead go to the financially ailing Detroit & Mackinac Railroad in Michigan. Monroe County officials continued to press their case, hoping that Congress would provide financial support; the railroad authority invited 16 potential operators to submit proposals, and seven did so on August 26, 1983. Meanwhile, the federal regulations surrounding the abandonment of railroad lines changed; instead of a lengthy regulatory process that had discouraged railroads from abandoning unwanted routes, the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) would be allowed to approve the abandonment of any track if it were not in service and had no originating or terminating shipments for two years, and was not required to serve any other track. This allowed Conrail to abandon the Cut-Off almost immediately. Atlantic City gambling interests also opposed restoring rail service over the Cut-Off, fearing renewed passenger service would provide a "Gambler's Express" to not-as-yet-built casinos in the Poconos that might compete with the nascent casinos of the Jersey Shore. A New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) priority list of rail projects at the time listed the Cut-Off as Number 26 in a list of unfunded capital projects.
The Monroe County Railroad Authority continued to fight Conrail, with support from PennDOT and the somewhat bizarre threat to use a privately owned World War II tank to block any Conrail rail-removal train. Conrail eventually relented and agreed not to sever the line between Slateford and Scranton.
With all regulatory and political hurdles removed in New Jersey, however, Conrail began lifting track on the New Jersey side of the Delaware River Viaduct on June 8, 1984. Even as this was taking place, Morris County Transportation Department director Frank Reilly made last-ditch attempts to delay track removal in New Jersey. In addition, the dismantling was hampered by saboteurs who replaced railroad spikes removed by the crew. These efforts proved to be in vain as the last mainline trackage was removed from the Cut-Off at Port Morris on October 5, 1984. Wooden ties and rock ballast were left in place, which was unusual since Conrail's standard abandonment practice involved removing all components (rails, wooden ties, signals, poles, rock ballast) when dismantling a railroad.
With track removal complete, the 27 miles (43 km) of right-of-way west of County Road 602 (Brooklyn-Stanhope Road) in Hopatcong, New Jersey, was sold to Jerry Turco, a developer based in Kearny, New Jersey. Turco said that he originally had no intention of purchasing the Cut-Off, but rather had learned of its availability from Conrail after he inquired about a 1,000-foot (300 m) section of the Lehigh & Hudson River Railway (L&HR) in Andover, an abandoned line that Conrail also owned. Turco said he wanted to acquire the short section so that he could expand a nursing home operation that abutted the roadbed. Conrail refused to sell the isolated Andover parcel, but offered to sell it if Turco would acquire all of the L&HR right-of-way from Sparta Township to Belvidere, a total of 32 miles (51 km). Turco said that it was during this time that Conrail offered the Cut-Off, which crosses the L&HR on the Pequest Fill near Tranquility, New Jersey, to create a package deal.
Turco eventually accepted the deal to purchase both rail lines, acquiring nearly 60 miles (97 km) of right-of-way for roughly $2 million. Shortly thereafter, Conrail sold the remaining 1 1⁄2-mile (2.4 km) parcel east of Sussex County Road 602 to developer Burton Goldmeier of Hopatcong, who reportedly wanted to use that section of the Cut-Off as an access road to a proposed housing development. (In 1988, Conrail removed the tracks from the L&HR.)
Later preservation and restoration efforts (1986-2008)
Public efforts to save the Cut-Off gained momentum in 1985, after Turco announced plans to move fill material from the Pequest Fill and other large Cut-Off fills for the Westway Project in New York City, and then dump garbage and construction materials into the large cuts. (The Westway Project, as originally proposed, would have required large amounts of fill material, but was abandoned in September 1985.) As such, it was never entirely clear how serious Turco was about his proposed Rebar Landfill or if this was simply a ploy to stir up public opposition and force the New Jersey state government to step in and acquire the Cut-Off by condemnation. Either way, the controversial proposal helped galvanize support for preserving the Cut-Off via a $25 million state bond issue for acquiring abandoned railroad rights-of-way that was placed on the ballot in New Jersey in November 1989.
Voters overwhelmingly approved the bond issue and NJDOT instituted eminent domain proceedings against the corporations that Turco and Goldmeier had established in New Jersey for the Cut-Off.
For liability purposes, Turco had established separate corporations for the parcels of right-of-way in each municipality that his section of the Cut-Off ran through: Knowlton, Blairstown and Frelinghuysen townships in Warren County; Green, Byram, and Andover townships and Stanhope and Andover boroughs in Sussex County. In addition, separate corporations had been set up for the Paulinskill Viaduct and the Delaware River Viaduct, as well as for the 1.4 miles (2.3 km) of right-way in Pennsylvania (which was later acquired by Pennsylvania's Monroe County Railroad Authority). In addition to these corporations, Turco created holding companies to oversee these other corporations: Sussex & Warren Holding Company, Inc. and OLC, Inc., (OLC, Old Lackawanna Cut-Off). (On the other hand, Goldmeier's 1 1⁄2-mile (2.4 km) section of right-of-way, which passed through short sections of Roxbury Township (Port Morris and Landing) in Morris County and Hopatcong Borough and Byram Township in Sussex County, was held as one parcel.)
By 2001, New Jersey and Pennsylvania had acquired their respective portions of the Cut-Off for a total of $21 million.
In July 2006, the final environmental review was submitted to the Federal Transit Administration for review and approval. The following February, the Lackawanna County and Monroe County Railroad Authorities were merged to form the Pennsylvania Northeast Regional Rail Authority. One of the objectives of the new rail authority was to help expedite the effort to restore passenger service on the Pennsylvania side of the Cut-Off project.
In December 2008, U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer sent a letter to the new Amtrak president, Joseph Boardman, expressing his support for Amtrak service between Scranton and Binghamton, New York. In April 2009, U.S. Senators Arlen Specter and Bob Casey, Jr. sent a joint letter to President Barack Obama, seeking support for Amtrak service between the two cities. They also cited an Amtrak feasibility study on the subject.
Passenger service restoration (2008-present)
Phase 1 (Port Morris Jct. - Andover)
In May 2008, the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority (NJTPA) approved funding for Phase 1 (also known as the Minimal Operating Segment, MOS) of the New Jersey Transit proposal to rebuild the first 7.3 miles (11.7 km) of the Cut-Off between Andover and Port Morris Junction. The approval made the project eligible for Federal Transit Administration (FTA) funding for engineering and design work. By 2009, the environmental assessment for the remainder of the project to Scranton was completed, with a "Finding of No Significant Impact" (FONSI). The EPA concurred with this finding in July 2009.
The Andover Extension of the Cut-Off will have one track with a 70 mph (110 km/h) speed limit for trains pulled by dual-mode locomotives. Among the components of Phase 1 will be a station on Roseville Road in Andover, which will be built with 125 parking spaces. Located about 1.1 miles (1.8 km) from U.S. Route 206 and about 0.9 miles (1.4 km) from Sussex County Route 517, the site is the area's only land parcel of sufficient size that is at grade with the Cut-Off and near a major highway. No station has existed at this location before. Rehabilitation work will be required for Roseville Tunnel, which historically has seen ice buildup within and drainage problems and rockslides just west.
Brush removal and general preparation to restore trackage between Port Morris and Andover began in early 2011 after being delayed by a disagreement between the NJ-DEP and NJ Transit over the location for Andover Station. Separately, a small area of wetlands was identified near County Route 605 in Stanhope where a stream passes along the north side of the right-of-way. Due to the mating season of the endangered Indiana bat, April 1 - October 31, tree and brush removal on the right-of-way must take place outside of this period. The laying of track began at Port Morris in September 2011. By December 2011, about 1 mile (1.6 km) had been installed west of Port Morris. At that point, a Norfolk Southern Railway rail train brought 7.5 miles (12.1 km) of continuously welded rail to Port Morris, sufficient to relay track to Andover.
As of 2015, about 4.25 miles (6.84 km) of rail, in three unconnected sections (described in greater detail in the table below), has been laid between Port Morris and Lake Lackawanna. Most of the right-of-way between Port Morris Junction and the lake has been cleared of trees and debris, but a lack of environmental permits to clear the roadbed between the lake and Andover has delayed the whole project. Their approval is now expected in early 2015. Separately, the rehabilitation of Roseville Tunnel has been placed on NJ Transit's capital projects list for fiscal 2015.
Rail service from Andover is expected to begin in 2016.
|Section||Milepost||to Milepost||Track installed?||Remaining work (estimated completion date)||Photo|
|1. Port Morris Junction||45.8||--||Yes*||Install prefabricated #12 switch at junction to replace temporary switch; install Automatic Train Control and signal system on Cut-Off; lay more track into Port Morris Yard (PMY) from Morristown Line (2015–16). [*Note - temporary connection at junction, within Port Morris Yard limits, is installed.]|
|1a. Port Morris Wye Track||PMY||46.4||No||Complete grading of cleared wye trackbed; more roadbed work within Port Morris Yard; lay track and reinstall signals to connect yard and mainline. (2015–16).|
|2. Port Morris Junction to County Road 602||45.8||47.0||Yes||Connect wye track to mainline (2015–16); align track, superelevate curve (2015–16).|
|3. Route 602 grade crossing||47.0||47.0||No||Raise utility wires that cross the railroad right-of-way; adjust height of roadway and/or Cut-Off roadbed; install tracks across roadway with quad gates (2015–16). This will be a "quiet zone": trains will not sound their horns when approaching.|
|4. Curve at and west of Route 602 grade crossing||47.0||47.1||No*||Minor right-of-way clearing; lay ballast and track [*Note - temporary track was installed on wooden ties with no ballast and later removed] (2015–16).|
|5. Tangent track west of Route 602 grade crossing (continues to start of 2nd curve west of Port Morris)||47.1||47.6||Yes||Add ballast; align track (2015–16).|
|6. 2nd curve west of Port Morris (includes new and old Route 605 overhead bridges)||47.6||48.0||No||Clear right-of-way; lay ballast and track; remediate adjacent stream (2015–16).|
|7. Section east of Lake Lackawanna (includes tangent track and 3rd and 4th curves west of Port Morris)||48.0||50.0||Yes||Track ends at Lake Lackawanna. Add ballast; align track and superelevate curves (2015–16).|
|8. Lake Lackawanna to Roseville Tunnel (tangent track)||50.0||51.6||No||Clear right-of-way and re-lay track (2015–16).|
|9. Roseville Tunnel (tangent track)||51.6||51.8||No||Lower tunnel floor; seal tunnel roof; deepen drainage ditches; install lighting in tunnel (2015–16).|
|10. Roseville Tunnel to Andover Station (on 5th curve west of Port Morris)||51.8||52.9||No||Clear right-of-way; improve drainage immediately west of tunnel; scale back rock wall and place rockslide protection west of tunnel; replace Roseville Road overhead bridge (2015–16).|
|11. Andover Station||52.9||53.1||No||Replace culvert 500 ft (150 m) upstream from station on private land (2015); clear station area of trees and regrade; build parking lot and connect to Roseville Road (adjacent); build station building and platform; install end of track device; install signage (2015–16).|
Beyond Phase 1, a proposed Phase 2 would extend the line into northeastern Pennsylvania, while a Phase 3 would extend it to Scranton, 88 miles (142 km) west of Port Morris. Depending on available funding, these phases could be modified further.
In 2007, the total cost of bringing service to Scranton was estimated at $516 million, including track, stations, signals and bridgework on the Cut-Off; additional stations and signals in Pennsylvania; and additional locomotives and passenger cars that would be dedicated to this service. The proposal would see NJ Transit operate along the Phase 2 tracks, but the agency that might operate service on to Scranton has yet to be determined. The operating cost for Phase 2 has not been projected, but it is estimated that it would cost about $26 million a year to operate to Scranton in Phase 3.
There is no schedule set for these phases.
Phase 2 would restore service along the remainder of the Cut-Off (21 miles or 34 km), perhaps to Analomink or East Stroudsburg, depending upon funding.
In New Jersey, Phase 2 would:
- Rebuild the remainder of the Cut-Off as a single-track railroad (with concrete ties and welded rail), but with an 80 mph (130 km/h) speed limit, reflecting the gentler curves of the line west of Andover.
- Remove and rebuild the bridge deck of the Delaware River Viaduct.
- Partially rebuild the decking of the Paulins Kill Viaduct.
- Construct passing sidings west of Andover station and in Blairstown.
- Reopen Blairstown Station, with 230 parking spaces.
- Build a maintenance-of-way facility at the former Greendell station site.
In Pennsylvania, Phase 2 would:
- Replace the highway bridge at Slateford Jct. (Slateford Road) that was removed in 1990.
- Build a station near the Delaware Water Gap Visitors' Center in Smithfield Township with a 900-parking space garage.
- Build a station in East Stroudsburg with 228 parking spaces.
- Build a station in Analomink with 250 parking spaces and a new railyard for to store trains overnight.
Phase 3 would
- Build a Pocono Mountain station near the former Mount Pocono station with 1,000 parking spaces.
- Reopen the historic station building at Tobyhanna with 102 parking spaces.
- Build a station in Scranton west of the former DL&W station with 30 parking spaces.
- Upgrade the tracks in Pennsylvania.
- Install a signal system compatible with NJ Transit standards.
All stations would have high-level platforms and would comply with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards. Service would be scheduled to Hoboken and New York City. By 2030, it is estimated that the service could transport 6,000 passengers a day to jobs in northern New Jersey and New York City.
Commuters traveling to Hoboken using this service would board Port Authority Trans-Hudson (PATH) or Hudson-Bergen Light Rail trains or will have transferred to a NJ Transit Midtown Direct train into Manhattan. (Midtown Direct service will also be available on some trains to and from Andover.) The estimated travel time from northeastern Pennsylvania to the Hudson River is expected to be comparable to the commute from New York's northern suburbs such as Poughkeepsie, Brewster, or New Haven, Connecticut, although it is expected that some passengers will be traveling to intermediate points in New Jersey and not necessarily as far as the New York City waterfront.
Stations and landmarks (Port Morris–Scranton)
|45.8||Roxbury Township||Port Morris Junction||Junction between Lackawanna Cut-Off and Montclair-Boonton Line to Hoboken Terminal and Penn Station in Midtown Manhattan (via Midtown Direct service). Nearest station: Lake Hopatcong, milepost 45.5. NJT's Port Morris railyard is also here. (Morris Canal passed under the Cut-Off just west of yard tower until it was filled in by the mid-1920s).|
|51.6||Byram Township||Roseville Tunnel||1,040-foot (320 m) double-track tunnel.|
|53||Andover||Andover||Planned NJT station.|
|57.6||Green Township||Greendell||Proposed maintenance-of-way facility on Cut-Off. Station and tower closed in 1938.|
|60.7||Frelinghuysen Township||Johnsonburg||DL&W station closed 1940; partially rebuilt in early 1990s; demolished in 2007.|
|64.8||Blairstown Township||Blairstown||Proposed NJT station using existing station building, which is now privately owned. The only regularly scheduled stop for DL&W/EL passenger trains on the Cut-Off.|
|71.6||Knowlton Township||Paulinskill Viaduct||Also called Hainesburg Viaduct.|
|73||Stateline (NJ/PA)(Delaware River)||Delaware River Viaduct||I‑80 passes under viaduct on New Jersey side of the river.|
|74.3||Slateford||Slateford Junction||Junction between Lackawanna Cut-Off and Old Road. Interlocking tower.|
|77.2||Delaware Water Gap||Delaware Water Gap||Proposed station about 1⁄2 mile (800 m) west of station vacated in 1967.|
|81.6||East Stroudsburg||East Stroudsburg||Proposed station, south of old station site.|
|86.8||Analomink||Analomink||Proposed station. Former station stop at nearby Henryville eliminated.|
|100.3||Mount Pocono||Pocono Mountain||Proposed station north of former station in Coolbaugh Township near PA 611.|
|107.6||Tobyhanna||Tobyhanna||Proposed station using a building closed in January 1958.|
|133.1||Scranton||Scranton||Proposed station southwest of old station and DL&W regional headquarters building, now a Radisson Hotel. Former station stops at Gouldsboro and Moscow, between Tobyhanna and Scranton, are not proposed as station stops for this service at present.|
(* Miles along the line from Hoboken.)
- Dorflinger, Donald (1984–1985). "Farewell to the Lackawanna Cut-Off (Parts I-IV)". The Block Line (Morristown, New Jersey: Tri-State Railway Historical Society).
- Reagan, Bob (July 1983). "Monroe County Saves the DL&W Cutoff". Railpace Newsmagazine.
- Blaszak, Michael W. (October 2010). "Free to Compete". Trains.
- Frank, Howard (September 28, 2007), "Mount Airy marches out slot machines: Casino's media tour offers a hint of Poconos' future", Pocono Record
- Nemeth, Tom (September 1984), "Taps for 'the Cutoff'", Railpace Newsmagazine: 20–21
- The Block Line, Tri-State Rail of that year. Conrail reported that the 39-foot (12 m) sections of 131 lb (55 kg/m) stick rail that was removed was to be welded together to be relaid elsewhere in the Conrail system. [Tri-State Railway Historical Society, Inc., Fall 1984, p.22.]
- The Lackawanna Cut-Off Right-of-Way Use and Extension Study, Gannett Fleming and Kaiser Engineers, Corp., September 1989.
- NJ Transit – New Jersey-Pennsylvania Lackawanna Cut-off Passenger Rail Restoration Project Draft Environmental Assessment
- SENS. SPECTER AND SANTORUM ANNOUNCE APPROVAL OF FEDERAL FUNDING FOR THE SCRANTON-NYC PASSENGER RAIL SERVICE PROJECT: Transportation Funding as Part of FY03 Omnibus Appropriations Bill, press release dated February 14, 2003
- "Specter, Casey ask Obama for passenger rail money", Pocono Record, April 22, 2009, retrieved June 2, 2008
- Frank, Howard (May 31, 2008), "Small step for commuter rail eyed: NJ Transit to vote on filling in 7.3-mile stretch of 28-mile gap", Pocono Record, retrieved June 2, 2008
- Appezzato, John (June 4, 2008), "Plans move forward to revive Lackawanna Cutoff rail line", The Star-Ledger, retrieved June 4, 2008
- NEW JERSEY – PENNSYLVANIA LACKAWANNA CUT-OFF PASSENGER RAIL SERVICE RESTORATION PROJECT ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENT Prepared by: U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Transit Administration and NEW JERSEY TRANSIT in Cooperation with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, June 2008
- NJT Department of Capital Planning and Programs (October 2009). "Lackawanna Cutoff". Capital Improvement Program > System Expansion Projects. New Jersey Transit. Retrieved November 18, 2012.
- More information about federal regulations surrounding "quiet zones": "Federal Railroad Administration's Train Horn & Quiet Zone Rule". ABOUT US REAL ESTATE & UTILITY INSPECTIONS ROAD CROSSING INSTALLATION PUBLIC PROJECTS. Union Pacific. Retrieved November 18, 2012.
- Transit officials discuss plan to restore rail service to New York City Pocono Record - January 18, 2007
- NJT Geographic Information Services (November 2005). "Map: Northwest New Jersey / Northeast Pennsylvania Rail Corridor - Lackawanna Cutoff". New Jersey Transit. Retrieved November 18, 2012.
- Lackawanna Railroad's full schedule, Scranton, Poconos table, April 25, 1954, page 4 http://viewoftheblue.com/photography/timetables/DLW042554.pdf
- Edwards and Kelcey, Inc. (April 4, 2006). "Proposed Tobyhanna and Township of Coolbaugh Stations". Lackawanna Cutoff. New Jersey Transit. Retrieved November 18, 2012.