When you think of Scranton, you often don’t think of it as a bedroom community to New York City or the New Jersey suburbs.
But that mindset could change because Amtrak is proposing an expansion of its ‘Northeast Corridor,’ that includes a rail line from New York City to The Electric City.
The plan was presented in September to the Rail Passengers Association during a Zoom webinar.
“It was a great surprise and we’re very encouraged to see it,” said Tyler Kusma, a founder of the Scranton Rail Restoration Coalition.
New Jersey Transit has been on the record over the years wanting to put a train line to Scranton, but funding has consistently been an issue.
Kusma said getting the track work done on the New Jersey side has always been ‘talked about’ but never ‘got done.’
“We’re always excited about when they talked about rail service to Scranton,” he said. “I think what’s exciting about this is not only did they say they have a plan to do this, but they have a plan to fund it and to make it happen. We’ve not heard that before.”
Pressed for details about how long the project could take, when it could be up and running and how many trips it would make daily, all an Amtrak spokeswoman admitted to is that they were seeking federal money.
“We are seeking federal operating and capital funds, not state operating and capital funds, to help us realize that vision,” said Beth Toll, public relations manager for Amtrak.
The cost would be $25 billion to pay for multiple projects throughout the Amtrak system.
Kusma said the timing – this time – could be right.
“We’ve got the pandemic. That’s exposed a lot of structural issues that Congress can take a look at,” he said. “Infrastructure spending could be on the front burner. We don’t know what the Senate will look like, but things will be close. However, Amtrak gets a lot of bipartisan support.”
Earlier this year, a $1 million dollar study called the ‘Lackawanna Cutoff Restoration Commuter Rail Study,’ was commissioned in part by U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-Moosic.
The study found 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. Twenty-eight miles of the track are missing. The first 7 miles are under construction, from Port Morris, New Jersey to Andover, New Jersey, which would be the first station stop on the new line. The 21 remaining miles bring it into Pennsylvania, which will be phase two.
It would likely take about 2.5 to 3 hours to get from Scranton to Hoboken, New Jersey — the entire length is 133 miles. However, plenty of jobs could open up along the train line before getting to New York City, providing a lot of economic opportunity for Pennsylvanians.
President Elect Joe Biden was a big fan of Amtrak, talking frequently about how he would take the train from Wilmington, Delaware, to Washington, D.C. Some think Biden, a Scranton native, could put muscle behind the plan.
“This is a plan that’s supported by a lot of different groups,” said Kusma. “The trucking companies benefit because they get more cars off the road, college students get the benefit of traveling to campuses along the line and people can commute to New York City easier.”