A plan to restore a commuter railroad between Honesdale and New York City, opening up the Birthplace of the American Railroad to as far as the tracks will go, was brought forth October 23, aboard the Stourbridge Line train.
The diesel locomotive pulled car loads of frolicking fall foliage fans along the route from Honesdale through Hawley to Lackawaxen and back, limited to this 25 mile route (each way). This is how it has been for the past 39 years, since the Wayne County Chamber of Commerce started the excursions. In 2015 the Delaware Lackawaxen & Stourbridge (DL&S) Railroad, under the guidance of Tom Myles, took over the line.
Regular passenger service, however, has not occurred on this historic railroad bed since the Erie went to only freight, in the 1940s. Highways had improved and private cars had taken over, eclipsing the age of passenger rail in this region.
Times have changed, and today commuting from the Greater Big Apple region to the Poconos - including Pike and Wayne Counties - has become a way of life for many. To earn a better paycheck some endure multiple hours each day to drive a car or take a bus to work, so they can keep a more affordable home in the relative peace and quiet of northeast Pennsylvania. Some of these commuters resort to apartment dwelling in the city during the week, seeing their families only on weekends. Could they benefit from a passenger train service from here to there?
A. T. Tom Myles, owner and Chief Executive Officer of the DL&S and his team think so.
Help from a candidate
The dining car on the Stourbridge Line was reserved on this trip for the press and invited municipal leaders, who heard the vision laid out by Myles and Orlando Marrero, of Hawley.
Marrero, a local lock smith and candidate for the 139th District of the PA House of Representatives, said that the railroad passenger plan is the “cornerstone infrastructure” of his campaign, to tap into what he said is an overlooked opportunity for local, economic revitalization and improving quality of life.
About two months ago, Marrero approached Myles with his thoughts. Myles, who has been in the railroad business 55 years and has managed several passenger railroads before, said he has been considering restoring a commuter service for the past for years.
The candidate was asked what would happen to his participation if the November 6 election did not turn out the way he hopes. Marrero replied that he would continue to work with Myles and the DL&S, but if elected, he would intercede for the resources necessary for the project, at the State level.
Presently, the closest passenger rail service is in Port Jervis, NY, boarding on New Jersey Transit. New Jersey Transit makes several stops on its way to the main transit hub in Secaucus, NJ where passengers may board Metro North to take the trains into Manhattan.
Other links are available from Secaucus to take trains across New Jersey, with links to Philadelphia; one may also transfer to Amtrak at New York for service up and down the East Coast and beyond.
There are several ways the plan could unfold. Predicated on the plan going anywhere, however, is whether the public would support a passenger rail service, the needed funding and the necessary approvals and agreements between the DL&S and other railroads between PA and New York City.
Two main, potential alternatives were outlined by Marrero:
• Stourbridge Line could extend service to Port Jervis, NY where passengers would transfer to New Jersey Transit.
• New Jersey Transit, if interested, could extend service beyond Port Jervis and to Lackawaxen, or go all the way up the DL&S line to Honesdale.
Marrero suggested that an “express” train could be developed between Port Jervis and Secaucus, by eliminating stops. Between this and making certain upgrades to the infrastructure used now by the Stourbridge Line, he estimated that the commute between Honesdale to Manhattan could be a “realistic one and a half hour to two hour commute.” [90 to 120 minutes]
Checking the New Jersey Transit schedule for October 25, there were 12 trains departing Port Jervis, with an average travel time to Secaucus Junction of 122.75 minutes. (The adult fare was $20.25 one way.) There are 23 stops between the two points by taking the Main Line.
Taking the train down to Philadelphia, he said, would be a “reasonable two and a half hours.”
He also outlined a proposal to mitigate parking issues and increase riders, by adding train station stops at Lackawaxen and Shohola, with room for parking, and add a new railroad parking area not far from the station at Hawley, on Old Gravity Road.
Shohola, he said, would be the best stop for residents on the New York side of the river who wish to take this train.
Marrero suggested a network of six park and ride areas in northeastern PA to shuttle passengers by bus to the train stops.
Myles noted that an effort has been underway for at least 25 years to re-establish passenger services from Scranton to New York. That project would cost about “$2 billion,” he said, due to the need to rebuild a railroad bridge over the Delaware and restore trackage that was removed in New Jersey. Unlike that project, Myles said, there is “continuous trackage” in place from Honesdale to New York City.
He said he would not use the vintage coaches presently used on the Stourbridge Line for commuter service, but instead use modern light rail cars.
RR meeting on Nov. 12
His first step, Myles said, is a planned meeting on November 12 with officials of the New York Southern & Western Railroad (NYS&W) which owns the rail line along the Upper Delaware and where the DL&S connects at Lackawaxen. Permission would be needed from the NYS&W for the DL&S trains to proceed further. He said he wants to build the relationship with NYS&W first.
Myles has been attempting to negotiate adequate rates with the NYS&W for moving freight through Lackawaxen onto their tracks.
The NYS&W enters the Pennsylvania side at Lackawaxen from New York State, passes through Shohola and crosses the Delaware again at Mill Rift, on its way to Port Jervis.
Arrangement would be needed with New Jersey Transit to meet at some point, Myles said, whether DL&S goes to Port Jervis or NJ comes up to Lackawaxen.
“I’d like them to operate up into New York on the NYS&W and I’d like to meet them at Lackawaxen and bring people up this way,” Myles said. “Then we could operate the light rail. On the other hand, if New Jersey Transit wants to run a train up here, I’d be just as happy to do that as well.”
He said this plan has a lot of intricacies. Myles said he has been working with Marrero to set a course to accomplish this. All of the railroads concerned have a say and impact on how this is done.
NYS&W owns the tracks to Port Jervis and runs the freight operation. Metro North has the rights to the passenger operation but sub-contracts to New Jersey Transit to do the work.
“New Short Hills”
“To me, we have the best of what people what want in their lives,” Marrero said. “…If we can offer up a one and a half hour to two hour commute between Honesdale or from Wayne or Pike Counties and their jobs in the city, I believe this area can become the new Short Hills, the new Montvale, the new Greenwich, Connecticut. This could be the new go-to-suburbs from New York City and Philadelphia.”
Marrero stated, “We need to generate a sustainable, long term source of prosperity for northeastern PA. This could become a new engine in our economy, not to create a big sprawl or change the way that we live, but to give a higher quality of life to our residents…”
The resources this region possesses, he said, could also draw more people in by way of the railroad to enjoy them. The shortened commute could also attract more people in the city, with higher paying jobs, to come to northeastern PA to live.
If elected, Marrero said, he would first try and get a grant for a feasibility study. Should this study show the viability of the project, he said it may be possible to attract other grants and investment.
Buying land and setting park and ride stops, as well two train station parking areas at Lackawaxen and Shohola, could cost $17 million, Marrero estimated.
Adding improvements to the DL&S track bed could raise the cost to $40 million, he suggested.
Passenger service would also be attractive for vacation excursions, or a day trip to New York City.
Another idea, Marrero mentioned, is arranging for passenger trains to bring camp kids to the area, as well as parents visiting the camps.
In addition to the passenger service proposal, Myles stated that DL&S is planning a hiking trail alongside their tracks, connecting with other trail systems, notably at Hawley. He said this is a multi-million dollar project, and is in discussion with the state for funding.
Meanwhile, the DL&S is continuing to negotiate for freight business, Myles said.