Local lawmakers not yet on board planned rail line through Sussex County

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:51

    Sussex County n Federal lawmakers made the Lackawanna Cutoff passenger rail project a major transportation priority in New Jersey last week, but Byram officials still aren't ready to get on board the proposed plan to reactivate the abandoned line of tracks that run through the township and parts of Sussex County. Congress passed the nation's primary transportation funding bill, which included $19.3 million for projects in Sussex County. The legislation commits $11.5 million to the Lackawanna Cutoff project for completion of preliminary engineering work. U.S. Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-11), a co-author of the bill, labeled the legislation "a milestone in our continued fight to restore the Lackawanna Cutoff, get cars off our crowded highways, reduce air pollution and improve rail service in northern New Jersey." The Lackawanna Cutoff would restore passenger rail service between Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York City. When completed, proponents of the $350 million plan expect the rail line to carry 684,000 riders annually, providing commuters with an alternative source of transportation to New York City while reducing traffic congestion and air pollution along I-80. Township manager Gregg Poff maintained that a revival of the Lackawanna Cutoff would send more, longer diesel-powered trains n some possibly carrying garbage -- through points in Northwest New Jersey and beyond. He said that New Jersey Transit hasn't confirmed or 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. "The township's position hasn't changed," he said. "There's a lot of miscommunication or a lack of communication to explain why this line wouldn't be used to transport trash. That never seems to be relayed." New Jersey Transit wants to reconstruct the line, which shut down nearly 30 years ago. The project 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. New Jersey 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 New Jersey Transit Montclair-Boonton and Morris & Essex lines. Poff questioned the number of riders expected to use the line, but believes the potential to carry hazardous waste through the area outweighs any benefits of passenger service. "Byram has made it clear to the state and New Jersey Transit its opposition to this line," he said. "We've done what we can. We will still have to deal with noise and air pollution and there are more people that live in that area now."