The Lackawanna Cutoff – Then & Now
Port Morris Junction, near the southern tip of Lake Hopatcong, was the starting point for the Great Lackawanna Cutoff. Its name is derived from the Morris Canal, which flowed downhill from Lake Hopatcong toward both the Hudson and Delaware Rivers. Both the Lackawanna Railroad and Morris Canal reached their maximum elevation in New Jersey, 900 feet above sea level, at Landing. From here, the double-track Cutoff ran northwest before turning west, cutting through Roseville Tunnel, and razoring its way across rural northern New Jersey. The old main turned southwest towards Netcong, Hackettstown, and Washington.
The 28.5 mile Cutoff, from Port Morris to Slateford Junction, was built almost entirely on a descending grade never exceeding 29 feet to the mile or .6%. There is a story about a string of freight cars that broke loose in Port Morris yard and slowly drifted west. The curves that were all designed for 70 mph, easily handled the runaway cars. They were coasting at 50 mph by the time they reached the Delaware River and Slateford Junction. They finally came off the tracks and plunged into the river at the sharp curve in the Delaware Water Gap.
Port Morris interlocking controlled the high speed crossovers just west of Landing Station that were the actual start of the great Lackawanna Cutoff. It also controlled the wye and its connections to the Old Main and the Cutoff. At one time, there was a rather large yard at Port Morris. Now there is only the new NJ Transit yard. At one time, the Cutoff may have been three tracks another mile or so to Brooklyn-Stanhope Road, because the roadbed is certainly wide enough for it. Today, all that remains is the Old Main, otherwise known as the Washington Secondary. Oddly enough, the wye still has rail but is disconnected on both ends.
This photograph shows milepost 46 at the very start of the Cutoff with Port Morris Tower in the background. The pipeline was for compressed air to power the pneumatic switch motors, used throughout the interlocking. Both of Bob’s photos on this page were developed in the dark room by Anthony from the original negatives.
The same view today shows a lot of overgrowth and the abandoned right-of-way. The signal in the background is on the old main where the switches to connect the Cutoff would have been. The DL&W’s concrete tower still stands today, waiting for New Jersey Transit to restore the Cutoff!
This is perhaps the most depressing photograph in our history feature. In 1979, just after the last revenue freight rolled over the Cutoff, Conrail abandoned the entire Cutoff. The abandonment was immediately symbolized by removing one section of rail from each track just west of Port Morris Tower as shown here. The track was not removed until 1984. During those 4 years, Conrail attempted to sell a huge piece of the Lackwanna mainline from Port Morris all the way to Scranton, PA for $8 million! That’s 88 miles of Class I mainline, equipped with 132 lbs. rail, for $8 million! This photo also shows how perfectly straight the Lackawanna’s track was. Today’s engineering and feasability studies, not to mention restoring all of the rail, will cost hundreds of millions. The white concrete block near the signal box was the base of the signal bridge which once stood here. In the distance can be seen MP 46, shown in detail above.
We step back to include the surviving tower looking railroad west along the abandoned Cutoff in this recent photograph.
One has to admire the curved high speed switches. By this time, Conrail had removed the points of this switch, but left the frog in place. The track on the right was the westbound main going onto the Cutoff, and is badly rusted. The middle track is the eastbound main coming from the Cutoff. The track on the left goes down to Port Morris yard, Netcong, and beyond.
It is very hard today to find any trace of this switch. The track on the right has been rerouted to not go onto the Cutoff, and is now back in service.
We have made a complete 180 degree turn, but we’re standing on the old westbound main. On the right is a signal box. Also present is the switch motor for the switch shown two pictures up, whose points have been removed. Immediately beyond that was a curved, high speed crossover. The farthest switch of that crossover has also been removed, severing the westbound main onto the Cutoff. Also note that the road bridge in the distance has two arches. The Morris Canal passed under the left arch, while the railroad passed under the right one.
Again, it is very difficult to find the exact location of where these switches were. NJ transit has installed new crossovers just east of Landing station. Both tracks are now in service here.
If one were to follow the wye track down toward Port Morris Yard, this is what they would have seen.
The gorgeous stone station at Landing, NJ, immediately railroad east of Port Morris interlocking still stands today. The tracks are in a deep cut behind the structure. Railroad east to west is right to left in this photo. The cut is the highest point on the Lackawanna Railroad and the physical divide between the Hudson and Delaware River watersheds. New Jersey Transit has replaced the station with a modern structure just west of here.
Down at track level behind Landing Station, the old concrete staircase and awning are still intact in January 2005. With the canal long gone, New Jersey Transit calls the station Hopatcong. The southern tip of the famous Lake Hopatcong is a quarter mile away!
We conclude with two of several documents salvaged from the abandoned Port Morris Tower in 1983. Both documents are dated June 14, 1947.
This hand written note appears to be a list of communications with Slateford Tower noting one eastbound by Slateford and two westbounds due by Slateford. It also appears the Dover Drill using the old main contacted Port Morris Tower.