Efforts to bring passenger rail back to NEPA keep chugging along

‘Hopefully, 2023 is the year this went from an idea to implementation,’ rail backer Tyler Kusma told the Capital-Star

By: - January 26, 2023 6:30 am
Rail road sign

(Getty Images)

(*This story and a headline was updated at 7:55 p.m. on Thursday, 1/25/23 to correct the name of Tyler Kusma, the executive director of the Scranton Rail Restoration Commission)

SCRANTON — They think they can. They think they can. They think they can.

Northeastern Pennsylvania residents and officials are trying to be the Little Community That Could in bringing passenger rail back to the region.

The last few years have seen a concerted effort coalesce around President Joe Biden’s infrastructure bill as rail proponents are seeing their dreams chug ever closer to reality. It’s been five decades since the region last had passenger rail.

“Hopefully, 2023 is the year this went from an idea to implementation,” *Tyler Kusma told the Capital-Star. 

Kusma, the executive director of the Scranton Rail Restoration Commission, explained the next few weeks could be a crucial moment for the effort. 

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That’s when officials will put in a proposal to the Federal Railroad Administration to restore the Lackawanna Cutoff. 

The administration – boosted by funds from the federal  infrastructure law  – put out a request for nearly 40 new passenger rail corridors in December. The deadline for submission is March 20.  

Kusma’s group has been gathering signatures on a petition that will go along with the submission. As of Tuesday, it had 4,000 signatures.

Meanwhile, Amtrak has targeted Scranton as an area where it could expand. 

Amtrak tweeted out a picture of Scranton Mayor Paige Cognetti meeting with Amtrak CEO Stephen Gardner. 

Proponents have argued the expansion could improve the region’s economy. They’ve said it could help make the local colleges more prominent in New  York and New Jersey.

Once the pandemic occurred, they argued work-from-home could make Scranton’s community more attractive to young families.

But the project has its detractors, particularly those who’ve been hearing the promise of rail’s return for the better part of five decades.

Kusma admits the project is complicated.

“Any time you have this many groups and you’re trying to coordinate them, it can get difficult,” he said.

It’s been a rough and rocky route returning rail to the region, which first lost its connection to New York City in the early ‘70s. Shortly after the last passenger trains rumbled away, the tracks were torn up.

This proved quite an expensive obstacle in bringing the trains back. However, the Pennsylvania Northeast Regional Railroad Authority spent decades accumulating land and rail lines across four counties from north of Scranton through to the New Jersey border.

The state stepped in last year, purchasing 43,000 railroad ties that would upgrade the tracks if Amtrak picked the route for expansion. 

New Jersey is spending more than $60 million to expand rail in an area that could make expansion to Scranton more palatable.

Last year, Chris Walsh, a New Jersey rail expansion advocate told northjersey.com, “I’ve been involved with the project for 35 years, and this is the first time I think where I’d say [there are] strong reasons to be optimistic about the entire line being reactivated.” 

Now the possibility of gaining the Federal Railroad Administration’s funding has people even more optimistic.

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Patrick Abdalla
Patrick Abdalla

Correspondent Patrick Abdalla covers northeastern Pennsylvania for the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. Follow him on Twitter @PaddyAbs.