It’s been talked about for years, but it still hasn’t happened – passenger train service from Scranton to Hoboken, New Jersey – but a new study has reignited the debate about how quickly it could happen and when it might become a reality.

“It’s preliminary engineering, but what this is, is a crucial step,” said Larry Malski, executive director of the Pennsylvania Northeast Regional Railroad Authority, “that we had to take until we secure the money that we are looking to get on a regional and state level to complete this project.”

The $1 million Lackawanna Cutoff Restoration Commuter Rail Study, commissioned in part by Rep. Matt Cartwright, said the cost of the entire project would be $288.93 million. Initial figures put the final cost at $551 million; those figures came from a study put together in 2006. Two major bridges would also have to be upgraded on the line.

“The number-one asked question is ‘why has it taken so long’ and the reason is because there were 28 miles that were ripped up, abandoned and sold off. That’s really been a big problem with the project over 30 years,” said Malski. “It’s the need to get that back and lay track on it.”

He said the good news is that the project has started. Malski said there’s 28 miles missing. The first seven miles are under construction, from Port Morris, New Jersey to Andover, which would be the first station stop on the new line.

“That seven miles is under construction thanks to a $7 million grant,” he said of what’s being called phase one of the project. “And the key to this study is to give us updated engineering and construction costs for the 21 miles that’s remaining. Now we’ve got credible and updated numbers that we need.”

Malski said that 21 remaining miles bring it into Pennsylvania, which will be phase two.

He said he’s confident the project can get done.

“I am,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of critics along the way. The critics said we would never lay a mile of track past Port Morris and now we have seven miles under construction. Most of these large projects, if not all, are all done in phases. You don’t get a check and build. It’s all done in phases. We are following the pattern of a project of this magnitude.”

He said the project will take “a lot” of cars off I-80.

Malski said it would take 2.5 to 3 hours to get from Scranton to Hoboken – the entire length is 133 miles.

“The train service will provide something that the bus services don’t provide and that’s stops in New Jersey,” he said. “Our studies show that people who will ride the train and are taking it to work, most are not going to New York City, they are going to New Jersey.”

Sixty percent of the ridership is going to places in New Jersey with 40% going to New York City, said Malski.

“It’s going to provide an alternative that doesn’t exist,” he said.

A passenger study is next. The project could be finished by 2030. Federal monies depend on how much money that could come from transportation legislation in Congress.

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