The Great Lackawanna Cutoff – Then & Now

The approach signal for Port Morris Junction at Brooklyn-Stanhope Road.
Image Copyright ©2001 Anthony R. Tofani

To this day, the great Lackawanna Cutoff, or the New Jersey Cutoff, is considered to be an engineering marvel. At the time of its construction in the early 20th century, it was engineered for unprecedented speed and efficiency – no corners would be cut in the construction of this eleven-million dollar mainline route. It was to be quite the opposite of the DL&W’s Old Main, which wound across New Jersey in a fashion complete with many tight curves and steep grades. Instead, the route went north from Port Morris, New Jersey, and turned west near Roseville for an arrow-straight shot right into Pennsylvania. Right from the onset, the entire Cutoff, with the exception of one curve at Slateford, was remarkably designed for 70mph operation! Only one curve, most likely the aforementioned curve at Slateford, exceeded two degrees of curvature.

The Lackawanna became known as a pioneer in the use of reinforced concrete for its structures – the many abandoned towers, stations and viaducts that still stand today are a great testament to that. The Lackawanna allowed for no grade crossings on their new route, using instead concrete culverts and archways for which roads, waterways, and other railroads were to pass.

Although the Lackawanna had their mind set on a route without tunnels, geographical conditions at Roseville dictated that the route would require more than a rock cut. Grades were not compromised because of valleys, however, requiring the construction of fills as large as 110 feet high and three miles long (the largest, the Pequest Fill, fits both of those characteristics). Remarkably, the entire 28.5 mile Cutoff, from Port Morris to Slateford Junction, never exceeded descent greater than 29 feet to the mile or 0.6%!

While the last rails were pulled up in the mid-1980s, New Jersey Transit recently purchased the right of way with the hope of relieving congestion on Interstate 80, possibly extending service as far as Scranton. We sure hope to see it back in operation in the near future! Below is a listing of key locations along the Cutoff. We tried to be consistent with our before and after theme, but “before” photographs of some of these locations would be extremely difficult to find, if not impossible. One must keep in mind that no picture can capture the majesty and aura of the Great Lackawanna Cutoff. We suggest you take a trip out to Northwest New Jersey and see it for yourself!

The Great Lackawanna Cutoff (East to West):

The Lehigh & New England’s tunnel under the Cutoff. But wait, didn’t the LNE have trackage rights over the NYS&W under the Paulins Kill Viaduct? Yes, but unlike any infrastructure project built today, the DL&W planned ahead and built a tunnel under one of its great fills in Warren County in anticipation of the construction of a new line. It was never realized, and the LNE shared tracks with the Susquehanna until its demise in 1960. Today, this tunnel is part of a recreational park, providing access to a soccer field.

Sussex County recently placed this plaque along the Cutoff in Andover. It reads as follows…
The Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad started construction on an eleven million dollar connection between Port Morris and Columbia, NJ in 1910. Completed within less than two years, it was an engineering marvel of its time, given that it was built without earth-moving machinery, and its use of reinforced concrete.
During the Cutoff’s construction, the railroad purchased the original Huntsville schoolhouse and built a new structure, rather than change the alignment of the rail line. As construction progressed, the old schoolhouse was buried under tons of rock, to the sound of cheering school children who watched from a distant hillside.