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

Kathryne Rubright – Pocono Record – 10/28/2022

A state grant will provide half the funding for 43,000 new railroad ties in the Poconos, an infrastructure upgrade that is necessary if Amtrak is to add a passenger route between Scranton and New York City.

The $3.7 million grant through Pennsylvania’s Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program has been awarded to Monroe County Industrial Development Authority, which is part of the Pocono Mountains Economic Development Corporation.

Freight trains currently run on this section of track, along with passenger excursions, “but the key here is Amtrak service requires much higher speeds” said Larry Malski, president of the Pennsylvania Northeast Regional Railroad Authority.

Amtrak would run at 80 mph on certain long, straight sections of track, Malski said, and the federal government and inspectors require a certain amount of new railroad ties for higher speeds.

This grant covers half the cost, “which allows us to file for the federal portion” once final guidelines are received from the Federal Railroad Administration, Malski said.

If that funding comes through, tie installation would begin once warm weather sets in next year. The work would stretch about 40 miles from the Delaware Water Gap past Tobyhanna.

“My guess is even if we have everything signed, sealed and delivered by February, March or so, usually you want to hold off installing this type of massive amount of ties until you’re pretty sure of the weather,” Malski said.

Amtrak proposed 39 new routes last year, including service between Scranton and New York City. Routes connecting NYC to Allentown and Reading were also proposed. If all three come to fruition, they could serve a combined 1.3 million riders each year. Amtrak also estimates that the Scranton-NYC route would have an annual economic impact of $87 million, following an initial impact of $2.9 billion from “one-time capital investments.”

In June of this year, a group of federal, state and local elected officials — including a bipartisan group of state legislators representing Monroe — sent a letter to the Federal Railroad Administration to formally express their interest in participating in a grant program.

U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-8), who led that letter, said in a statement that the grant “is another great step forward when it comes to restoring passenger rail service to New York and will go towards replacing railroad ties in Lackawanna and Monroe counties.”

“This award adds to the building momentum and is a crucial step forward. I’m grateful for Gov. Wolf’s action and the work done on it by State Representative Maureen Madden, who represents a major part of Monroe County.  A large and diverse group of supporters has come together to ensure we maximize our efforts when it comes to this significant economic development opportunity, and it’s great to have the Pennsylvania executive branch on our side,” added Cartwright, who chairs the Lackawanna Cut-Off Rail Restoration Caucus.

That name refers to the 28-mile section of track that must be rebuilt between Port Morris, New Jersey, and Slateford, Pennsylvania, for the route to be complete. A 7-mile section in New Jersey is under construction.

“I am among a passionate and vocal throng who have been advocating for the return of Northeast PA passenger rail service because it can do so much good for so many reasons, and this funding goes a long way toward making that a reality sooner rather than later,” state Rep. Maureen Madden (D-115) said in a statement.

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