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Over the years, I’ve always wondered why one of the most premier ski and recreation destinations in the Northeast - the Pocono Mountains - does not have passenger rail service.
Why should a weekend getaway to our area, or a commute from our area to New York City/North Jersey come with the side effects of being jammed inside rush hour traffic on Interstate 80 in New Jersey or even local congestion here in the Poconos.
Of course, I would like positive improvements for all ski destinations in the Northeast, from the Green Mountains in Vermont, to the Catskills in New York State, to ours in the Poconos and Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania. However, the Green Mountains and the Catskills are the ones getting the infrastructure improvements with rail investments on the Vermonter and Ethan Allen Services through Amtrak.
In addition, over in Colorado, they even have seasonal ski trains, including one known as the Winter Park Express. This is on top of the Amtrak California Zephyr service to multiple ski destinations stretching from Denver, Colorado to Lake Tahoe, California. And it’s also worth mentioning the VIA Rail Service for our northern neighbors in Alberta, Canada to their scenic Banff ski areas.
So why do the Pocono Mountains, a premier ski and recreation destination that also serves as a super-commuter suburb of New York City and North Jersey, lack a passenger rail corridor?
There used to be rail service here, but a general lack of attention and investments in railroads nationwide in the 1970s and 1980s brought it to an end the culminated with the unfortunate removal of trackage by Conrail in 1984.
The railroad corridor, known as the Lackawanna Cutoff, was built by the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western (DL&W) Railroad from 1908 to1911 between Port Morris Junction in Port Morris, New Jersey to Slateford Junction in Slateford, Pennsylvania. Some important structures along the route include the Roseville Tunnel, Paulinskill Viaduct, and Delaware River Viaduct. The service was mixed between passenger and freight throughout the years, however for its remaining years, only freight was running through the corridor.
Fortunately, with more environmentally conscious efforts as of recent, the cutoff has now been owned by NJTransit since 2011. It’s done a whole study with regards to a restoration projet.
It is authorized to succeed to Andover, New Jersey for Phase 1, and it is projected to be in service by 2025. In addition, Phase 2 would run from Andover, New Jersey to Scranton, Pennsylvania, where the Roseville Tunnel, Paulinskill Viaduct and Delaware River Viaduct would be put into use.
This route could very well be one of NJTransit’s most scenic and historic routes. NJTransit also has the equipment and capacity, with dual mode diesel electric locomotives to multi-level coaches, so they’re ready to operate. This project benefits both New Jerseyans by freeing up parking capacity and Pennsylvanians by giving them dedicated lots in Monroe and Lackawanna counties.
While some may suggest adding additional lanes on I-80 in New Jersey’s Sussex and Warren counties, it doesn’t solve the transportation issues with regards to Northwest New Jersey and Northeastern Pennsylvania. It’s already one of the widest rural highways in the region.
No matter how wide Interstate 80 in New Jersey is, even up to the Interstate 95 interchange in Bergen County, there’s clearly demand for additional commuter and traveler capacity even if taking into account COVID-19′s impact on future workflows.
About 6% of the workforce in Warren County have “super commutes” in excess of 90 minutes, that is roughly 3,900 people. In the neighboring Monroe County, a 2017 CBS article puts the reality of East Stroudsburg Borough’s residents in perspective – “The roughly 20,000 residents who call the Monroe County borough home have the dubious honor of enduring the country’s longest average commute, Census Bureau data show, topping even notorious traffic magnets like Los Angeles, New York and Washington, D.C.” And that is 20,000 in East Stroudsburg Borough only. This doesn’t even include the rest of Monroe County plus neighboring Lackawanna and Northampton counties.
Why should people in Northwest New Jersey and Northeastern Pennsylvania have to deal with such long commutes? Why should people settle with limited transfer points in New York City?
This article first appeared on www.lehighvalleylive.com
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