By Congressman Matt Cartwright
If you love history and trains, Railfest at Steamtown is a must-visit.
As we celebrate “railroading’s past, present and future,” I can’t think of a better goal for American rail service than expanding our current passenger rail system to communities that are hungry for it, like Northeast Pennsylvania.
Since the creation of the Pennsylvania Northeast Regional Railroad Authority in 2006, Northeast Pennsylvania has seen some impressive business growth linked to freight rail. Examples of new industries that the rail authority has helped bring to the region include the $40 million flour mill in Mount Pocono, Bestway Lumber Distribution in Cresco, Keystone Propane in Tobyhanna, and the Linde Bulk Transfer Facility in Carbondale.
We need to keep going with the rail rebirth initiative. More connections mean more positives, and linking Scranton and the Pocono Region with New Jersey and New York City via passenger service should be our next objective.
This would help relieve congestion on our highways, protect the environment and spur economic growth all around. If this service step can be taken, it would then open up the possibility of eventual Amtrak through- trains to Syracuse, Cleveland, Chicago and the west.
The congestion argument for passenger rail restoration is getting easier and easier to make. Every morning, more than 20,000 commuters leave their homes in Northeast Pennsylvania and embark on a stressful, congestion-filled journey on I-80 to jobs in New Jersey and New York. Truck traffic is projected to double on I-80 in roughly the next decade, and that could render the highway nearly useless as a commuter asset during morning and afternoon rush hours.
Further, we all know that public transit agencies and passenger railroads are eco-friendly entities, in that when they displace large amounts of single-passenger car travel, they cut aggregate CO2 emissions. Future advances in rail engine energy efficiency will cut even more.
But the driving force behind the NEPA passenger rail vision is mostly economic. Creating lasting, easy access to our majestic scenery, thereby opening up the region as a travel destination, and providing more opportunity for business development will bring in more dollars to our local economy.
It will be a challenge to get this done, no doubt, but the rewards are well worth it, and I remain staunchly committed.