‘Game-changing’ rail service could return to Pennsylvania, lawmakers announce

Close up of the "Amtrak" paint on an Amtrak train car.

Fifty-three years after rail service between Scranton and New York City was discontinued, Democratic federal lawmakers on Tuesday announced the route’s revival is one step closer to becoming a reality with funding from the 2022 federal infrastructure law signed by President Joe Biden.

The Federal Railroad Administration is including Northeastern Pennsylvania in its Corridor Identification and Development Program with the goal of reestablishing direct passenger rail service between Scranton and New York, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey and U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright said in a press release. That inclusion in the corridor program means the Federal Railroad Administration will provide a $500,000 grant to develop a scope, schedule and cost estimate for Amtrak to revive the rail line that was last used in 1970, a spokesperson for Casey told the Pennsylvania Independent.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act created the program in an effort to address intercity passenger rail needs in the country. The law, which both Casey and Cartwright voted for, set aside a total of $66 billion for Amtrak.

“For generations, passenger rail service helped Northeastern Pennsylvanians connect with loved ones, get to school and work, and access economic opportunity and recreation,” Casey said in a prepared statement.

“I have fought to restore Scranton rail service for my entire career as a United States senator, including voting to pass the infrastructure law, because bringing passenger rail service back to my hometown and to our region will be a game-changing force for our economy, our families and our communities,” Casey continued.

According to a March statement from Amtrak, trains on the Scranton–New York line would make three roundtrips per day and would transport an estimated 470,000 riders each year. Stations along that line would be located in Scranton, Mt. Pocono, and East Stroudsburg in Pennsylvania; Blairstown, Dover, Morristown, Montclair, and Newark, New Jersey; and New York City. Service on that line could begin as early as 2028.

In addition to the $500,000 for the Scranton–New York service, an identical Federal Railroad Administration grant will be provided to study a potential route connecting Reading, Philadelphia and New York, according to a press release issued Tuesday by U.S. Reps. Madeleine Dean and Chrissy Houlahan. As part of that project, existing tracks between Reading and Philadelphia would be restored; those tracks were last used in 1983. The new line would include intermediate stops in Pottstown, Phoenixville and Norristown. Another half-million dollars will go to studying the creation of a rail line connecting Chicago and Pittsburgh via Fort Wayne in Indiana and Columbus in Ohio, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio said in a press release.

Tuesday’s announcements come as the Biden administration works to significantly boost train service throughout the country. In September, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced infrastructure law funding for 70 rail improvement projects in 35 states and Washington, D.C. Those projects include up to $11.2 million to upgrade approximately 200 miles of tracks owned by the Buffalo and Pittsburgh Railroad.

Federal lawmakers said the rail lines would help to grow local economies. An Amtrak study from this year found that direct rail service between Scranton and New York could generate as much as $84 million in annual economic activity.

“Whether passengers use these new rail lines for their daily commute or for leisure, increased access to Philadelphia and New York – especially for more rural areas of our community like Reading, Pottstown and Phoenixville – is an investment in the people and communities that need it most,” Dean said.

Amtrak has also voiced strong support for the lines, and the company’s CEO noted in a March press release that passenger rail service in and out of Scranton was discontinued in 1970, one year before Amtrak was created.

“Restoring and expanding this corridor with daily multi-frequency service would dramatically boost mobility and economic development for residents of Scranton and Northeastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey and the broader Northeast region,” Amtrak CEO Stephen Gardner said.