Rail line through Byram picks up steam

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:52

    BYRAM n A proposed plan to reactivate an abandoned line of railroad tracks through Byram picked up steam when the U.S. Department of Transportation announced last week a $1.97 million grant toward the Lackawanna Cutoff project. Proponents of the plan believe the rail line would provide commuters with an alternative source of transportation from Pennsylvania into New York City while reducing traffic congestion and air pollution along I-80 and New Jersey's other major highways. "The Lackawanna Cutoff has great potential to get cars off of Interstate Route 80 and eliminate other daily traffic jams in northern New Jersey," said Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-11), a member of the House Appropriations Committee who helped secure the funds. "These federal funds are a part of a continued effort to help restore this passenger rail line and get commuters to work and back home safer and quicker than ever before." Byram township manager Gregg Poff said the $350 million project is still millions of dollars and years away from construction. "It's such a large project that is being managed by such a large bureaucracy," said Poff. "These things proceed very slowly. There's a whole series of things that will have to be completed before we ever see trains running." New Jersey Transit, which is expected to operate the service, will face a tough test when an environmental and planning assessment review of the Cutoff is submitted to the Federal Transit Administration, which will then rate the proposed project. Anything other than a "highly recommended" rating would likely doom the decade-long effort to resume the first passenger service from New York City to the Poconos since 1970. An FTA decision is expected next year. Once completed, NJ Transit estimates the rail line will carry 684,000 riders annually, or 2,600 per weekday. The state Department of Transportation says 160,000 vehicles travel daily on I-80, up from 98,000 a decade ago. The resulting emissions, transportation officials believe, contribute to New Jersey's failure to comply with the federal Clean Air Act, which the state must comply with by 2010 or lose billions in highway funding. Byram maintains that a revival of the Lackawanna Cutoff would send more, longer diesel-powered trains -- some possibly carrying garbage -- through points in Northwest New Jersey and beyond, further complicating efforts to control sprawl. Poff said NJ Transit has neither confirmed nor denied allegations that the line, which cuts through the Forest Lakes, Lake Lackawanna and East Brookwood sections of Byram, would be used to transport waste to landfills in Pennsylvania. Federal lawmakers have already committed $11.5 million toward the project for completion of preliminary engineering work. Although the rail was shut down nearly 30 years ago, NJ Transit wants to reconstruct the line, which would include track and signal improvements to approximately 60 miles of right-of-way, new stations, parking facilities, a train storage yard and additional rail rolling stock. NJ Transit plans to operate the new service with proposed stations in Blairstown and Andover, and Scranton, Mount Pocono, Analomink and East Stroudsburg in Pennsylvania. The re-instituted rail line would provide service to New York Penn Station via transfer to Midtown Direct by connecting to existing NJ Transit Montclair-Boonton and Morris & Essex lines. Poff questioned the number of riders expected to use the line, and believes the potential to carry hazardous waste through the area outweighs any benefits of passenger service.