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Pennsylvania Contemplates Future of NYC Passenger Train

State transportation officials will listen to public comments during online hearings on a draft plan laying out future spending on railroads, including the proposed Scranton to metro New York City passenger train.

by Borys Krawczeniuk, The Times-Tribune / November 16, 2020
Shutterstock/Sailorr

(TNS) — Pennsylvania transportation officials will listen to public comments during online hearings on a draft plan laying out future spending on railroads, including the proposed Scranton to metro New York City passenger train.

The draft plan's bottom line recommendation on the passenger train: no money, no schedule.

In fact, the plan simply lists the project — near the bottom of its list of proposed passenger rail projects.

U.S. Rep.  Matt Cartwright , D-8, Moosic, said the low standing "is actually appropriate" because the project has many hurdles remaining before it's ready for funding.

"We have a lot of ducks to get in line yet before we're in a position to be at the top of that list," Cartwright said.

To register to join the public meetings, visit the state rail plan website, www.planthekeystone.com/Pages/PA-State-Rail-Plan.aspx. The public meetings are scheduled for 4 to 5 p.m. today and 6 to 7 p.m. Tuesday.

The long-planned train would run 133 miles between Scranton and Hoboken, New Jersey, where travelers could hop on another train to get into New York CityNew Jersey Transit, the state's main public transportation provider, would operate the train. A 2006 study pegged the cost at $551 million and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation increased that to $650 million in its responses to comments on the project in its 2015 rail plan.

However, an estimate developed with money Cartwright gathered from state, federal and local sources, said it would cost about $288.9 million just to reinstall tracks, upgrade two major bridges and carry out other related work necessary to have continuous rail between the two cities. The 2006 study included the cost of railroad stations and other equipment.

Earlier this year, New Jersey Transit issued a 10-year transportation plan with no new money for the project beyond existing plans to extend its service about 7.3 miles along the famed 28.45-mile Lackawanna Cutoff between Port Morris and Andover. Restoring the cutoff track, removed in the 1980s, and upgrading the bridges are considered the most important factors in resuming the service, which ended in January 1970.

New Jersey Transit is in the process of screening potential contractors for the project's next step, the rehabilitation of the Roseville Tunnel on the 7.3-mile stretch.

Contractors must submit qualifications by Dec. 16, according to an online New Jersey Transit calendar.

After that, Cartwright said New Jersey Transit expects to have a list of qualified contractors by February with New Jersey Transit choosing a bidder in June and construction expected to begin in September.

That project alone could take two years and doesn't include repairing a culvert and reinstalling the remaining 3.1 miles of track, said  Tom Drabic , principal transportation planner for Sussex County, through which the train would run.

Earlier this year, a New Jersey Transit spokeswoman said trains wouldn't run on that track until at least the second half of 2026.

No agency has plans to reinstall the other 21 miles and upgrade the bridges.

Pennsylvania's 2015 state rail plan put the project on its "vision list," but PennDOT sharply questioned its usefulness in response to advocates' comments.

PennDOT pointed out the Federal Railroad Administration does not fund commuter-rail projects and the Federal Transit Administration found the project met none of the "primary minimum funding criteria." PennDOT also said the Scranton-to- Hoboken trip would take longer than by car.

"If advances in technology or a new opportunity arises that can advance this project forward within the financial and scheduling constraints of the FRA, FTA and PennDOT, we can reassess the project," PennDOT wrote.

(c)2020 The Times-Tribune (Scranton, Pa.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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