This dirt path running through northern New Jersey was once laid with track, carrying passenger trains from New York City due west to the coal-and-steel hub of Scranton, Pennsylvania, and beyond.
Called the Lackawana Cutoff, this trail is now all that's left after the last passenger train left Scranton in 1970. America's 20th century love affair with the automobile left the passenger train to wither. Even the track along the abandoned line was pulled up.
“Well, the cut off is a missing link between New York and Scranton."
Chuck Walsh is the president of the North Jersey Rail Commuter Association, a non-profit advocacy group, and he wants to restore the twenty-eight-and-a-half miles of track.
"So if you put that back, you're talking about being able to run, whether it be Amtrak or New Jersey Transit, you'd be able to run trains from New York to Scranton or even beyond Scranton, for that matter, which you can't do right now.”
Walsh isn't the only one who dreams of restoring this railway.
"The last passenger train left Scranton January 5th, 1970. And the only reason I am so specific on that is because I rode that last train out of Scranton."
Larry Malski is the president of the Pennsylvania Northeast Regional Railroad Authority.
"We knew what we lost. Scranton was built on coal, railroads and steel. And the railroads, unfortunately, almost disappeared. We saved what we could and we saved a lot of what was here, thank God. But we need to bring back the passenger train.”
In 2001 New Jersey purchased the cutoff from private developers. In 2011, NJ Transit began work on the eastern end of the cutoff. Recently, however, progress has stalled.
When Americans take a trip, the default question has long been, “fly, or drive?” making investment in rail a difficult sell.
So what might it take to bring a passenger train to Scranton?
Perhaps a president, born and raised there.
"A new intercity rail service up to one hundred and sixty previously underserved communities being connected."
A long-time advocate of Amtrak, Joe Biden called for $80 billion in new spending on high-speed rail projects.
"Think of what it will mean, for opportunity if we can connect Milwaukee to Green Bay, to Madison, Scranton and Allentown to New York, Indianapolis to Louisville and much, much more."
Larry Malski had an immediate reaction:
“Overjoyed. I can't find other superlatives other than to say that that was that was it."
The prospects of bringing Amtrak service to Scranton and other cities now depend on negotiations between the Biden Administration and lawmakers in Congress as the two sides wrestle over how much money to spend on an infrastructure bill.
But talk of restoring this length of track has brought new energy to its advocates.
"This is a unique project. It's made it difficult, there's no doubt about it. But the fact of the matter is, when this is finally done, this has been something that's probably never been done before.”
For Walsh at least, he sees a light at the end of the tunnel.
BRYAM TOWNSHIP, NEW JERSEY, UNITED STATES / HOPATCONG, NEW JERSEY, UNITED STATES / UPPER MOUNT BETHEL TOWNSHIP, PENNSYLVANIA, UNITED STATES / GREENDELL, NEW JERSEY, UNITED STATES / COLUMBIA, NEW JERSEY, UNITED STATES / PORT MORRIS, NEW JERSEY, UNITED STATES / PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA, UNITED STATES / SCRANTON, PENNSYLVANIA, UNITED STATES /