The Lackawanna Cutoff, also known as the New Jersey Cutoff (as most of
the route lies in New Jersey), was one of two grand realignment projects
carried out by the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad in the
very early 20th century. Working
from east to west the Cutoff was built between
1908 and 1911 at a cost of $11 million. While this route was only about
28.5 miles in length it shaved more than 11 miles of redundant trackage,
shed many sharp curves, and reduced the ruling grade by more than half.
The cutoff only remained in use for about 73 years before it was
abandoned and removed by then owner Conrail in 1984. However, the
right-of-way is currently owned by NJ Transit with eventual (most
likely, hopeful) plans to restore the route to operation as a high speed commuter line.
It's quite hard to achieve a panoramic photograph of Tunkhannock Viaduct given its vast size. Although not part of the Lackawanna Cutoff this view illustrates just how massive the structure is, towering over the Nicholson, Pennsylvania valley. Tunkhannock was built by the DL&W as part of another improvement project, the Nicholson Cutoff.
Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad officially has its beginnings
in 1851 when in October 20th of that year the Lackawanna & Western
Railroad operated its first scheduled train
between Scranton and Great Bend, Pennsylvania (originally the L&W
was known as the Liggetts Gap Railroad until it changed its name in
1851). The Lackawanna gained its name in March of 1853 when it merged
with the Delaware & Cobbs Gap Railroad (which constructed a line
south of Scranton) to form the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western
Railroad. Although the DL&W would have a number of smaller
railroads making up its system the final integral pieces of the railroad
was the Morris & Essex (which built a line between Newark and
Morristown, New Jersey) and New York, Lackawanna & Western (which
built a line between Binghamton and Buffalo, New York).
With the ownership of these lines the DL&W's main line was basically complete and, in all, stretched from Buffalo, New York to Hoboken, New Jersey just across the Hudson River from downtown New York City (Manhattan). The idea of the DL&W leveling and straightening its main line to Buffalo began around 1900 and was the result of its president William Haynes Truesdale, who not only wanted the railroad to be more competitive in the New York City-Buffalo market but also wished to alleviate a curving and meandering route through much of western New Jersey and eastern/northeastern Pennsylvania that was slow, steep, and circuitous. Quite rich at the time serving the lucractive anthracite coal mines of eastern Pennsylvania, timber regions, and vacation destination of New York's Pocono Mountains work on the DL&W's Lackawanna Cutoff, the first such project, began in earnest in 1908 at Port Morris, New Jersey (Lake Hopatcong) heading essentially straight west.
The new alignment, which
replaced the "Old Road" (which was the result of hopeful merger with the
Central Railroad of New Jersey that never happened), broke away from
the main line initially heading north, then west. The DL&W spared
no expense in straightening and leveling its main line using massive
fills and deep cuts to keep the maximum ruling grade at an astounding
0.6%! Perhaps the Cutoff's most impressive feature is its
concrete bridges, which are arched designs
built of concrete. Most notable of these bridges is Paulinskill
Viaduct, one of the largest in the world at the time (before Tunkhannock
Viaduct was constructed). The bridge spans Paulins Kill in New Jersey
and is more than 1,000 feet long and 100 feet high.
Another interesting aspect of the cutoff's design
is the use of concrete. Due to the material being readily available,
as the railroad served many plants along its lines (which is why the
DL&W built so many structures from concrete, including stations and
interlocking towers), it was ultimately chosen as the material of choice
(not to mention its incredible strength and durability) to build both
the Cutoff as well as the later Nicholson-Hallstead Cutoff.
The DL&W built almost everything from concrete, which not only
included bridges and tunnels but also stations, interlocking towers, and
numerous other small structures (virtually everything along the
Lackawanna Cutoff was built from concrete). The cutoff ultimately opened for business, officially, on
December 24, 1911 at a cost of more than $11 million. With no grade
crossings the 28.5-mile double-tracked cutoff could feature speeds of 70
mph and its straight, virtually level grade greatly reduced operating
times despite its massive cost. For more reading about the Lackawanna Railroad please click here.
A deck view of Tunkhannock Viaduct shows the double-tracking still in place some time during the Erie Lackawanna era, probably the 1970s.
The Cutoff remained in use through the DL&W and
Erie Lackawanna eras. Passenger service on the line ended in 1971 and
most of the remaining freight trains had been transferred to the former
Erie main line after the EL merger. By the time Conrail assumed control
of the route in the spring of 1976 virtually no online traffic remained
and the railroad made plans to abandon the route, despite its level
grade. In 1984 the rails were pulled although after an effort to
preserve the right-of-way for future commuter rail use in 1989 saved it
from an uncertain future. Since that time, slowly both Pennsylvania and
New Jersey have worked to complete the necessary paperwork to begin
reconstruction of the route. As of 2013 the first 7.3 miles between
Andover and Port Morris Junction, New Jersey is now scheduled to be
rebuilt and opened by 2016.