An Amtrak route between Scranton and New York City would have an annual economic impact of $87 million, according to new analysis from the passenger rail service.
Advocates aren’t surprised by the number; they say it backs up their longstanding belief that restoring rail service between the cities would benefit the region.
“Those of us who’ve been working for years on bringing passenger rail back to northeastern Pennsylvania are gratified that Amtrak understands the kind of economic boon this train service can have for our whole region,” said U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-8).
The impact is “another argument in favor” of bringing back passenger rail, said Tyler Kusma, executive director of the Scranton Rail Restoration Coalition.
Amtrak also expects an initial impact of $2.9 billion from “one-time capital investments.”
That’s related to both construction itself, and associated costs such as feeding and housing workers who will be spending in the region, Kusma said.
The NYC-Scranton route has a larger economic impact than Amtrak’s other proposed routes in Pennsylvania. The NYC-Allentown route would have a one-time impact of $1.3 billion and $58 million annually, while the NYC-Philadelphia-Reading line would have an initial impact of $1.8 billion followed by $54 million annually.
“Especially in Monroe County and the Poconos, it’s really going to be a tremendous boon to the tourism/recreation market,” said Larry Malski, president of the Pennsylvania Northeast Regional Railroad Authority.
It’s “not uncommon” for people from northeastern Pennsylvania and New York City to travel between those areas, so adding another transportation option “kind of just supercharges and makes it easier for people to go and do these things,” Kusma said.
“We have the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, which is an enormous asset to our area, and it attracts people not only from metropolitan New York City but all over the east coast,” Cartwright said.
Malski has noted that in addition to connecting Scranton and New York City, the route would tie the region into the whole Amtrak network, which has more than 500 stops.
Cartwright also promoted the Amtrak route as a job creation mechanism: “The fact that they settled on $87 million a year, that equals jobs. That equals a lot more good-paying jobs in our area.”
In July, the Pennsylvania Northeast Regional Railroad Authority announced that it had signed an agreement with Amtrak for the rail service to assess the infrastructure along the route and make estimates about ridership and revenue.
Cartwright then announced the formation of the Lackawanna Cut-Off Rail Restoration Caucus, which also includes U.S. Rep. Susan Wild (D-7) and two New Jersey lawmakers. Rebuilding 28 miles of track between Port Morris, New Jersey, and Slateford, Pennsylvania, is a crucial part of bringing back rail service between New York City and Scranton.
NJ Transit has a $62 million project underway to restore a 7-mile section. A 2019 report estimated that the other 21 miles would cost about $289 million.
The U.S. House of Representatives took a procedural vote along party lines Tuesday to vote on a bipartisan infrastructure bill by Sept. 27, and to advance a $3.5 trillion budget outline that committees will now fill in the details of.
“I admit I was nervous this week,” Cartwright said, because “there was a real possibility that all of that could go sideways, but we were able to keep it together and keep the infrastructure legislation — all of it — on track.”
Some moderate Democrats had wanted to proceed separately on the two pieces of legislation, passing the bipartisan infrastructure bill first and then considering the larger budget bill, rather than linking them as in Tuesday’s vote.
Cartwright is cautiously optimistic about the route’s prospects, not wanting to overpromise to a region that has heard lots of train talk over the years, “but it sure looks good right now,” he said.
“When the train arrives at the station, that’s when I’m going to promise you’ll get a ride on it.”
Kathryne Rubright is a reporter covering the environment, northeast Pa. politics, and local news. She is based at the Pocono Record. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.