Tuesday, June 09, 2009

U.S. Senators back restoration of Lackawanna Cut-Off

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U.S. senators from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York are vocally backing a 20-year effort to restore passenger rail service along the Lackawanna Cut-Off, a famed rail right-of-way that last saw active rail service in 1981. The Cut-Off this week received a “finding of no significant impact,” or FONSI, from the Environmental Protection Agency, clearing the way for the states to seek funding.

Recent media attention has focused on support from Pennsylvania’s two senators, Arlen Specter and Bob Casey (both Democrats), but any service introduction likely will begin in New Jersey, with New Jersey Transit extending its existing operations west of Port Morris, N.J.  New Jersey’s U.S. Senate contingent ,Robert Menendez and Frank R. Lautenberg (also both Democrats), have supported the line’s resumption for many years.

A relative newcomer is U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who has voiced support for efforts to extend the Cut-Off project north of Scranton, Pa., across the state border to Binghamtom, N.Y, in New York State’s Southern Tier region.

For New Jersey, one factor driving the project is the potential loss of federal highway funds if the state fails to improve air quality under the Clean Air Act. Service on the Cut-Off route would offer a travel alternative to citizens in northwest New Jersey and northeastPennsylvania who now use Interstate 80 as the primary travel option.

Most involved with the project at present presume that NewJersey Transit would be the initial operator of any service, though some have argued that the tristate nature of the larger plan requires Amtrak to play an eventual role.

Lawrence Malski, chairman of the Northeast Pennsylvania Regional Railroad Authority, said the project will be completed in phases to allow for lower funding requests. Though Malski and others suggest that the initial Pennsylvania service from Delaware Water Gap could be up and running in four years, many industry observers, citing the 20 years already logged by project proponents, say such a timetable is optimistic at best.