Earlier this week, the EPA declared a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) for a new passenger rail line between Morris County, New Jersey and Scranton, Pennsylvania. The project, if completed as planned by New Jersey Transit and the Pennsylvania Northeast Regional Railroad Authority in 2014, would provide a new connection to New York City along previously abandoned right-of-way. The route will be served by diesel locomotive-driven commuter rail trains and cost some $550 million to build.
The project has been under study for several years now. Once opened, the 88-mile line will be an extension of New Jersey Transit’s Montclair-Boonton and Morristown Lines from Port Morris Junction to Scranton through the Pocono Mountains. Though most of the right-of-way is still in operation for freight travel, a portion between Port Morris and the Delaware Water Gap at the state line between Pennsylvania and New Jersey is abandoned; New Jersey Transit will need to install new track there on a corridor section that was last used in the late 1970s. The first phase of the project will be a 7-mile line reconstruction from Port Morris to Andover.
When the line opens, commuters will benefit from a ride taking them through some of America’s most beautiful scenic landscapes. It’s a mostly rural line, meaning that it’s unlikely to attract many passengers, especially considering that the riding time between New York and Scranton will clock in at over three hours; the existing trains between Mt. Arlington and New York Penn Station, with a transfer in Newark, take an average of 100 minutes to complete their journeys. Scranton itself only has 70,000 inhabitants, though its metro has more than 500,000, so it will likely expand commuter rail ridership by a bit overall.