Work on century-old Roseville Tunnel in Andover to advance Sussex County rail service

New Jersey Herald: Work on century-old Roseville Tunnel in Andover to advance Sussex County rail service

By Bruce A. Scruton

ANDOVER — The light at the end of the Roseville Tunnel just might be the reconstruction of the more-than-century-old passageway that has held up re-establishment of the Lackawanna Cut-off and commuter rail service to Sussex County.

Rep. Josh Gottheimer visited the site of the long-proposed Andover station, just west of the tunnel on Monday to announce funds are now guaranteed for New Jersey Transit to move forward and take bids for the work to rebuild the tunnel. 

The funds to support the proposed service expansion of the Lackawanna Cut-off and bring passenger rail to Northwestern New Jersey come from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, approved earlier this year and signed into law by President Joe Biden.

With the guaranteed federal money to restore the tunnel, Andover and Sussex County can move forward with the associated project to buy land to rebuild and reroute a stream that flows under Roseville Road near the station. 

The station on Roseville Road in Andover is to be the temporary end-of-the-line when passenger service begins, but Gottheimer said the federal money will also cover rebuilding the entire 28 miles of the Lackawanna Cutoff, allowing Amtrak to bring passenger rail service between New York City and Scranton, Pennsylvania, with stops along the way. 

Andover Mayor Thomas Walsh showed Gottheimer the issues with the passing stream and noted the town's commitment to purchase the land for the project expires in June and the town has run out of extensions. 

With the land purchase, the town can proceed with moving the stream. The county's work - replacing a small bridge - can be done without any additional land purchases. 

In his remarks, Gottheimer chided New Jersey Transit for "drudging along for more than a decade" on the restoration of rail service from the southern tip of Lake Hopatcong, westward to where the Cutoff crosses the Delaware River in Knowlton Township in Warren County. 

There are about 28,000 commuters a day to New York and eastern New Jersey from Sussex County and adjacent areas of the foothills of Pennsylvania's Pocono Mountains, Gottheimer said. 

"Sussex County residents have the longest commute of anyone in New Jersey, 38 minutes," he said, "And Vernon residents are said to have the worst commute in the entire state. 

The restoration of the Lackawanna Cutoff, completed in 1909, has been on the books for several decades. Passenger service was stopped last century and rail service was discontinued in 1978.

The right-of-way was purchased privately but was never developed and the rails were pulled up and sold. New Jersey Department of Transportation took ownership of the right-of-way in 2001.

About a decade ago, NJTransit began to rebuild the railbed and laid track in a couple of places between Hopatcong and the tunnel, located adjacent to the northeastern corner of  Andover's C.O. Johnson Park.

Issues with engineering studies and bidding on the restoration of the interior of the tunnel have since held up the project. 

From the beginning of the cutoff's history, the tunnel has been problematic with rocks falling from the tunnel's roof onto the tracks. 

The restoration has called for building a new ceiling to the 1,024-foot-long tunnel as well as installing modern communication links for commuters and train crews as they pass through the tunnel. 

NJTransit has a bid that is good for six months, said its President Kevin Corbett after a meeting last week.

At that same meeting, Gottheimer told the board he supported the restoration project and moving to award a bid for the Rosevale Tunnel project. He noted that "unfortunately, this project has been subject to repeated delays and uncertain timetables with regulatory hurdles, property disputes and inter-agency negotiations over the last 15 years with no construction having occurred on the project since 2012." 

Walsh said this is a "unique one-time opportunity for the residents of the state of New Jersey to receive 75% federal funding for the extension of what would be passenger service across state lines into Pennsylvania."

"Imagine what we can do if we had a way for more people to get here," Gottheimer said about stations in Sussex County. 

Staff Writer Colleen Wilson contributed to this report

Editor's Note: This story has been updated with a clarification to reflect Andover has used all its extensions with the agreement now expiring in June.