Amtrak study reveals proposed schedule, ridership for Scranton-NYC route

Nearly half a million people could be traveling by train between Scranton and New York City annually by 2030, according to Amtrak’s newly-released study of the proposed route.

“There’s a lot to be excited about when it comes to Amtrak’s latest findings, including the two-hour-and-fifty-minute travel time from Downtown Scranton to Penn Station in Downtown Manhattan. In addition, one of the stops in Newark, N.J., is a 10-minute cab ride to Newark Airport. This will significantly reduce traffic along I-80 and I-84, easing congestion and reducing emissions,” said U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright, whose 8th District covers most of the route within Pennsylvania.

The study’s release on Wednesday comes as the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, in conjunction with the Pennsylvania Northeast Regional Railroad Authority and New Jersey Transit, submits an application to the Federal Railroad Administration’s Corridor Identification and Development Program. The FRA will decide which corridors move ahead and begin to receive money for engineering and planning.

Pocono train to NYC: Could we know Amtrak’s fate by summer?

“Passenger rail service in and out of Scranton was discontinued in 1970, only one year before Amtrak was created,” said Amtrak CEO Stephen Gardner. “Restoring and expanding this corridor with daily multi-frequency service would dramatically boost mobility and economic development for residents of Scranton and Northeastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and the broader Northeast region.”

Larry Malski, president of the PNRRA, which paid for the study, said that it “reinforces what we have advocated for decades that rail passenger service to this region is a huge economic positive.”

amtrak study reveals proposed schedule, ridership for scranton-nyc route

Larry Malski, president of the Pennsylvania Northeast Regional Railroad Authority, speaks in Scranton on March 17, 2023 as PNRRA chairman Bob Hay and U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright look on.

The economic impact, which factors in employment, tourism spending and other activity, would be $84 million if the recommended schedule is used.

Amtrak figures another $20 million in “user benefits” such as “travel time saved and the quality, safety, and reliability of the rail transportation compared to alternatives” and productivity gains made possible by not having to drive. “External benefits” such as “increased public safety from reduced roadway travel and reduced public health costs due to reduced air pollution” are worth $7 million.

The proposed schedule

Amtrak’s proposed service plan includes three trips daily in each direction. Four possible schedules were simulated with software, and Option D was recommended because it does not conflict with existing commuter trains in New Jersey. This plan would have Scranton departures at 7 a.m., 12:58 p.m. and 6:57 p.m. and New York departures at 9:18 a.m., 2:48 p.m. and 8:11 p.m.

Option B has earlier departures: 6:07 a.m., 11:51 a.m. and 5:44 p.m. for Scranton and 7:37 a.m., 1:50 p.m. and 8:09 p.m. for New York. However, that schedule “may have a commuter train conflict that remains unresolved.”

Despite the earlier schedule perhaps suiting commuters with a 9-5 office job better, Option D was modeled to have higher demand: 473,500 by fiscal year 2030 compared to 451,800 for Option B.

amtrak study reveals proposed schedule, ridership for scranton-nyc route

The Tobyhanna stop, which would have been about five miles from the Mount Pocono stop, has been removed from the Scranton-NYC Amtrak proposal. The station is pictured here in summer 2022.

One-way run times are under three hours. This is achieved by eliminating the Tobyhanna stop included in the 2021 proposal, and assumes speeds of up to 60 or 80 mph (depending on how straight or curved different sections of track are) on PNRRA-owned track. Speeds would be up to 110 mph on the Lackawanna Cut-Off after it is rebuilt.

Currently, the 60-mile section from Scranton to Delaware Water Gap is a Class 2 track, meaning the maximum speed for passenger trains is 30 mph. Upgrades to allow for higher speeds would include signals and Positive Train Control, a system described by the Federal Communications Commission as one “designed to prevent train-to-train collisions, derailments caused by excessive speeds, unauthorized train movements in work zones, and the movement of trains through switches left in the wrong position.”

Of interest:$3.7M grant will fund railroad ties that allow for Amtrak speeds in Poconos

Costs for upgrades

Last fall, a $3.7 million grant was awarded to Monroe County Industrial Development Authority through Pennsylvania’s Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program to cover half the cost of 43,000 new railroad ties — an upgrade Malski explained at the time would be necessary to achieve Amtrak’s desired speeds.

Upgrades on the PNRRA track would cost $99 to $176 million, depending on whether improvements are limited to “strictly necessary projects to begin service” or if additional steps are taken, such as replacing track components “with 10 or fewer years of remaining service life.”

Costs for rebuilding the Lackawanna Cut-Off were outside this study’s scope. However, New Jersey is working on a 7-mile section of the 28-mile gap, and a 2019 study estimated that the remaining work would cost almost $289 million.

Rail advocates note that the cost of this project has long been a challenge, but under the infrastructure law passed in 2021, the federal government would pay 80%.

Train cars would be serviced and cleaned in Scranton. The study identified four possible sites in the Steamtown National Historic Site area.

Service could begin “no sooner than 2028,” Amtrak found. In addition to design and construction, the necessary steps include hiring and training crews (which Amtrak notes can take 12 to 18 months), acquiring the actual trains and executing an operating agreement.

In addition to the information in the study itself, “the biggest thing that stands out is that this exists, which is very exciting,” said Tyler Kusma, executive director of the Scranton Rail Restoration Coalition, which has collected more than 10,000 signatures on a petition calling for the restoration of the Lackawanna Cut-Off. “I know for many people this train has been five years away for 25 years” but this document from Amtrak finally lays out a schedule and the steps required to make service happen.

This article originally appeared on Pocono Record: Amtrak study reveals proposed schedule, ridership for Scranton-NYC route

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