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Touring the Lackawanna Cutoff

By Don Barnickel, Paula Williams

Considered by many to be the most scenic rail line in New Jersey, the Lackawanna Cut-Off was the last mainline to be built in the state (it was opened in 1911). Indeed, if the Lackawanna hadn't waited, it would not have possessed the technology necessary to build the line in the first place. Starting at Port Morris, the Cut-Off travels west through scenic Morris, Sussex and Warren counties on its way to the Delaware Water Gap, across some of the world's largest rail embankments, and two massive concrete viaducts. Looking for what is uniquely New Jersey? Following this route takes you along one of the most innovative endeavors of the early part of this century and through some of the prettiest countryside in the northeast!

The Cut-Off strikes out from Port Morris north to Sussex County and then crosses Warren County like a builder's chalk line to the Delaware Water Gap

Built in 1903 by the Lackawanna Railroad, Netcong station was originally called Netcong-Stanhope. Until the 1960's, two mainlines straddled either side of this classic brick structure. The boxcar-cum-storage shed is positioned near the location of the old freight house. Both Netcong and Port Morris were hot with rail activity. Today, N.J. Transit uses the former Lackawanna mainline to provide service to Hackettstown. Turn right out of the lot, crossing the tracks, and then immediately turn left onto Rt. 46 East. At the circle, take Rt. 206 south and follow signs for I-80 West. Travel west on I-80 to Exit 4, Columbia, and take Rt. 94 North. Drive 2.1 miles, passing underneath the Cut-Off, to Station Rd. on the right. Take Station Rd. approximately one half mile to Paulinskill Viaduct.


Delaware River Viaduct: The Lackawannas' best-known train, Phoebe Snow, crossing over what is now Route 80 in Columbia during the 1950's.
(Photo courtesy John Willever)

The Lackawanna Railroad pioneered in the use of reinforced concrete. At the time of its completion in 1911, Paulinskill Viaduct (also known as Hainesburg Viaduct) held the record as the world's largest railroad reinforced concrete viaduct. As you gaze up at the massive structure, it's easy to understand why. Walk in past the first arch to view the idyllic Paulinskill River.

Turn the car around to head back to Rt. 94 North. After you pass the intersection with Rt. 521 on the right, look for the right turn onto Kerrs Corner Rd. and follow it, crossing Marksboro-Hope Rd. You'll pass Shot-in-the-Dark Dairy Farm and you'll go through the intersection of Mott Rd./Mill Rd. to arrive at the tee intersection (unmarked) with County Rd. 661 South. Turn right, cross under the Cut-Off, and follow 661 just .3 miles to turn left on County Rd. 519 North (Dark Moon Rd.). Watch for the Cut-Off paralleling the road you are on.

On your right you'll pass a stone octagonal house. The Octagon style was most popular in the 1850's and 1860's and found its way into barns and houses alike. Although promoted under the guise of practicality, legend has it that the Octagon style eliminated the corners so that, "the devil could not hide in them."

One mile from your last turn, you'll pass under the Cut-Off and at 2.1 miles, Rt. 519 will veer to the left. Stay straight; at this point the road becomes Hibler Rd. Follow Hibler for a half mile and turn right on Henry Rd. Drive approximately one mile to the intersection with County Rd. 611 North. Turn left, and slowly drive past the Greendell Deli General Store, and take the right just past the store into the Greendell station area. Follow the gravel drive north to the station.


Greendell station typifies the clean architectural design of the Lackawanna's innovations in concrete. The original roof was a thick green terra cotta tile. The developer who bought the Cut-Off from Conrail replaced the roof in the early 1990's before the state acquired the line. The new roof is a modern asphalt shingle, but the color is correct. The building further east is the interlocking tower, used to control the movement of trains on the CutOff.

Go back to the intersection of Henry Rd. and Rt. 611, bear left and take 611 South (Kennedy Rd.) for 2.4 miles to the tee intersection with County Rd. 517. Turn left, take 517 North to the flashing light, and bear left onto County Rd. 603 North. In a mile and a half, cross over the right- of-way of the former Lehigh and Hudson River Railway. You'll have to look hard to see it, as the weeds are fast reclaiming this rail route to New England. Continue on 603 for another half mile, but don't pass under the Cut-Off.

Ahead of you looms the start of the Pequest Fill, the world's largest railroad fill. It's over three miles long and 110 feet off the valley floor at its maximum height. Under the fill to your left is buried the original Huntsville school house. During the Cut-Off's construction, the railroad chose to purchase the structure and build the town another one farther away rather than changing the alignment of the rail line. As the construction progressed, the old school house was buried under tons of rock, to the sound of cheering school children who watched from a distant hillside.

 


Turn right on White Hall Rd. At 1.1 miles, Rt. 517 will join White Hall Rd. from the right and depart on the left in zigzag fashion. However, continue straight on White Hall Rd. for another .8 miles. At the tee intersection, turn left. This road is the old Morris and Sussex Turnpike, which passes through the "hole-in-the-wall," under the Lackawanna's Sussex Branch to Newton. The stone arch was built in 1848, and is one of the oldest surviving railroad structures in the state.

At Rt. 206, turn left and proceed north one mile to the traffic light in Andover. You'll pass under the Cut-Off again. The Cut-Off was nicknamed the "Highline"; its superior elevation above the surrounding terrain makes it unsurpassed in the state's inventory of potential scenic excursion lines.

Turn right at the light onto County Rd. 517 North (Main St.). At the stop sign, proceed straight onto County Rd. 613 North. Take 613 just .4 miles to the tee intersection, turning right onto Roseville Rd.; travel 3.9 miles until you reach the intersection with County Rd. 607. In this leg, you'll cross the Cut-Off three times on one overpass and two underpasses.

Roseville Tunnel lies just south of the overpass, and if you waited until late autumn to take your trip, you might catch a glimpse of the north portal to your left. The excavated stone was used in the fill south of the tunnel, visible after you cross beneath the Cut-Off for the final time. At the intersection of County Rd. 607, turn right and drive two miles to Rt. 206. Lake Lackawanna will be on your left. You'll also pass Wild West City on your left. At the light at Rt. 206, turn left, and drive a half mile south to the next light.

At this point in your journey, you can continue south on Rt. 206 to return to Netcong, or turn right onto County Rd. 604 West and continue 2.3 miles to Waterloo Village (temporarily closed.)

The Village of Waterloo is a restored 19th century village whose rise, decline, and rebirth is closely linked to the evolution of transportation. Waterloo is home to the Canal Society of New Jersey's Canal Museum, which has a most impressive canal exhibit. Photo opportunities abound here and at Saxton Falls (2.9 miles further west on County Rd. 604), where the reflection of the Morris Canal or Saxton Lake is sure to enhance any foliage photograph.

Comments

hdtvpete
01 Apr 2014, 15:53
Forgot to mention that the DL&W Cut-Off was constructed in 1909-1911 to provide exactly that - a straight, high-speed (80 mph) three-track mainline to the Delaware Water Gap from Netcong / Port Morris. It was very important back then (if you can believe it) to have the fastest rail service to Buffalo, NY. They were competing with the New York Central, Lehigh Valley, Erie, and other railroads that partnered to provide the service.

The DL&W was WAY ahead of its time in construction practices. Super elevated curves, heavy ballast, and poured concrete structures were cutting-edge engineering practices back then. It's a testament to their work that the Paulinskill, Delaware Water Gap, Martins Creek, and Nicholson Viaducts are still standing today. (The latter two are still in use north of Scranton.)

The pieces that are falling off are "peeling." Not unusual for concrete that old. But there's no question that they need restorative work.

When Conrail stopped service on the Cut-Off in 1984, they offered the entire line for about $1.5M. No takers. It was eventually bought by a salvage operation, and Gerald Turco tried to sell it to the State of New Jersey years later for $35M. They took him to court and finally settled on a price in the region of $6M. (Turco was going to excavate all of the fill for construction projects.)

I hope I see rail service restored all the way to Slatesford, PA (near Portland) and a connection to the old DL&W main line sometime in my lifetime...
hdtvpete
01 Apr 2014, 15:25
Rode the Lackawanna from Brick Church station in East Orange to Stroudsburg in 1959 as part of a school trip, aboard the legendary Phoebe Snow. We were in the last car (observation with curved end) as it crossed the Paulins Kill and Delaware Viaducts. I was just amazed; I had never seen such a spectacular view before.

Went to Scout Camp at Ken-Etiwa-Pec in the early 1960s and remember crossing the DL&W Sussex Branch and the Lehigh and Hudson River - they crossed at Andover Junction. Also remember the Lehigh & New England (shut down in October 1961) and New York, Susquehanna and Western railroads (they crossed under Paulinskill Viaduct, there was a small interchange yard there). NYS&W tore up its tracks west of Sparta Junction in 1963.

So many railroads ran through Sussex County 50+ years ago. Now, most of them are gone, and it's a shame. I hope service is eventually restored to the Cut-Off - it was an engineering marvel back in its time, and still is today.
college basketball
27 Feb 2012, 03:19
Thanks for the news! Just was thinking about it! By the way Happy New Year to all of you:D
Carl Frye
08 Nov 2011, 15:08
my grandfather charles panella on july 2,1918 collapsed in the switchyard of the Lackawanna railroad switchyard,and died of and hemorrage ulcer of the stomach at the hackensack hospital.
Kent Loudon
05 Nov 2011, 14:43
It has been rumored that when the Erie-Lackawanna pulled up the tracks, they deliberately filled in all the drains on the viaducts to hasten their decay.
Bill Pruit
03 Jul 2011, 22:09
For the last 6 years or so I been traveling I80 everyday passing under the viaduct on the Delaware. I have admired this since I first saw this back in 1976. I noticed year after year that the bridge is falling apart, chunks of concrete keep falling off from this bridge. One of these days a nice chuck of it is going to fall on to some vehicle on the 80 and take them out. If your not going to fix it or restore it then tear it down for the act of public safety. It should have never gotten to this state to begin with. All that federal money to stimulate the jobs could have put towards in rebuilding that rail system instead of removing and putting up shiney new guard rail.
Joe
09 Jun 2011, 10:18
Chris,\r\nIt would be an "express line" of sorts. The plan is to have only a few station stops -- the Water Gap then Andover then onto Dover. I am not sure about the amount of stops on the eastern portion of the line, but the western part of the trip would be very quick. Effectively, the traffic would only flow eastward during the morning and westward during the afternoon.\r\n
Chris N
19 May 2011, 17:32
They have been talking about reopening that line since the mid-eighties. The problem is very few people will take it. It would take most riders at least 2 plus hours to get to NYC from PA. They anticipated that very few people will actually take the line for that very reason. Being the narrow passage it is impossible to allow an express line.
Rich
05 Apr 2011, 04:15
You forgot one of the most important stops on the cutoff, Blairstown Station. After you've seen the Hainesburg Viaduct and you get back onto 94, go a couple of miles and see signs for 521. Go right on 521 for approx 1.5-2.0 miles and the station is on the right. Just backtrack from there to continue the tour.
Ann
16 Jan 2011, 06:38
Thomas Seagrave,\r\n\r\nMy grandfather owned Panther Ledge & my father grew up on the farm. Do you have any pictures etc of the farm?\r\n\r\nAnn
Ken
29 Oct 2010, 20:04
I thought NJ Transit was putting in service from NJ to PA to be completed by 2006 - What Happened I would love to take this trip it would make it so easy to get to NYC
Nancy (Yelland) Tousignant
11 Jul 2010, 15:14
Wonder if someone could help? My Grandfather, William A. Yelland, (Mt. Tabor, NJ) was a railroad man - On the Lackawana rail, we believe. Who can I contact to dig up any history? All family have passed, and my sister and I would love to know just what it was he did for the railroad. This was around 1929 to 1949. Thanks for any input.\r\nNancy (Yelland) Tousignant, currently residing in Sunnyvale, CA.
Bob Emerick
31 Mar 2010, 07:44
Enjoyed the presentation. As an old DL&W employee I had many occasions to be by the cutoff. In fact we did many Sundays (we lived in Boonton) in riding along the cutoff at various places...
Mike
22 Feb 2010, 14:33
I havnt been up to the Paulinskill Viaducts in a few months but some of my friends said the manholes have been sealed shut and the whole area fenced off... again. So does this mean you can't go in or over the viaduct anymore? I spose I'll ask the same question concerning the viaduct that spans over the Delaware River as well?
Thomas F Seagrave
17 Jan 2010, 07:31
Kat\r\n\r\nAs near as I can decipher from what info I get off the internet,the idea is to open up the whole of the Lackawanna Cutoff from Port Morris to Delaware Water Gap and connecting with the RR lines running to Scranton,Pa and Binghamton,NY. The people are very up on this idea,now if the governing bodies of NJ would just get off their collective behinds it may become so. I would gamble to answer your question with a YES
Kat
13 Jan 2010, 16:01
Has anyone heard talk of the Lackawanna Line reactivating through the freylingheusen twsp. area?\r\n
Thomas F Seagrave
08 Jan 2010, 12:11
Lynn\r\nOops. My email addy is mihokyo@aol.com
Thomas F Seagrave
08 Jan 2010, 12:05
Lynn\r\nSorry it took awhile to get back to you,holiday and all. It may well be that John Dobson owned more than one farm. Greendell Pond is only about 15 feet wide by about 40 long. Budd Lake is maybe 20 miles east of Greendell on the east side of the Schooley Mountains.Hamilton Road rings a bell,but I can't be sure.I have some pictures of the Dobson Farm in Greendell. I will include my email address in this piece and if you wish to view the pictures let me know and I'll email them to you.
Lynn
19 Dec 2009, 08:35
Thomas-\r\n\r\nThank you so very much for this. I instantly tried to follow your directions on google earth, which of course lacks the signs. Does it lead to Hamilton Road? Is the pond now dignified with the name Frances Lake? I remember talking about Budd Lake, which, I saw on google earth, but it's not next to Greendell. We could have driven over there to swim, perhaps, or might there have been another Dobson's Farm there? It is nice to imagine wandering in that peaceful countryside, even though it is only, at the moment, via satellite photos.\r\n\r\nThanks again,\r\nLynn
Thomas F Seagrave
18 Dec 2009, 22:35
Lynn. The Dobson Farm I speak of is in the village of Greendell,NJ. The house is still lived in,but the barn/farm is not been in use for oh 30/40 years or more. I took a photo of the barn in the early 80's and it was overgrown with vines and other vegetation then. I believe the barn and other buildings were put on the National Registry to be left in their natural state never to be disturbed or something like that. I'm not sure which way you would be coming from to get there. If you leave from Newton,NJ you will traverse south on Rte 206 to Springdale(mile or so)there will be signs directing you to Greendell,follow the road for about 3 miles(I think)upon arriving in the village you will pass the old general store which is a deli now I believe. Anyway you proceed to the stop sign. There will be or should be a very small pond on your right. About 40 feet or so further to your right will be the farm house behind that will be the barn if you can still make it out for the growth. If you are coming from say Hackettstown,NJ you will proceed north on Rte 517 til you come to signs directing you to Tranquility and Greendell just follow the road. Keep me posted if you will
Thomas F Seagrave
18 Dec 2009, 21:56
Bill B. it may have been the Shotwells you snowmobiled with. I believe at that date the Shotwell family resided in the house. The house you resided in I know it. I'm not sure who owned it. I do remember the family who lived there during the time my family lived on the old Dobson Farm. The Knipp Family. I had a crush on one of the girls who lived there,her name was Linda Knipp. I was about 10 I think she was 8. In 1969 I was off living in the Binghamton,NY area. My father and at least 5 of my seven brothers were still living in the area about a mile southeast on the old Heddon Farm. My dad was a long standing member of the Greentownship Fire Dept. Do you care to devulge your last name maybe one of my younger brothers will know of you and your family. It sure will be great when they get the trains up and running on that section again. My wifes dad is a train nut like me and we mean to take a ride from the Binghamton area to and back from wherever.
Lynn
16 Dec 2009, 17:16
My family spent the summer of 1953 [approx] on what we called "Dobson's Farm" in New Jersey. I would love to know where exactly it was. Is the farm still there?
greg
28 Nov 2009, 11:00
take down the feance on the paulinskil viaduct your just slowing the kids down and wasting a lot of $$$$$$$ and cuting my ride short:[
Bill S
04 Nov 2009, 15:43
\r\nThe work for the track base is to go out for bid this \r\nmonth. Don't know when bid's will be opened.
Jeff
03 Nov 2009, 04:10
Can anyone verify that track work has begun from Port Morris to Andover? That would include trackage through the tunnel.
Bill B.
02 Nov 2009, 23:45
Thomas F Seagrave\r\n\r\nYes, I believe I vaguely remember you, we use to refer to your place just as "Seagraves" or "Seagraves Farm" (hmm remember having snappers in the bulk tank). I remember riding snowmobiles with a few guys from the farm and there was a cattle crossing bridge that went under the tracks, thought that was neat.\r\n\r\nI lived in Greendell the house catty corner across from the firehouse next to the barn. We moved to Greendell in 69, while I only lived in Greendell for about 5 years with my family I remained in the area a bit longer. And have fond memories of the area. My VW bug was rolled on top of the Pequest Fill on the service road along the tracks, luckily none of us were hurt but the roof had track marks in it..lol Drove that VW to Slatferd a few times along the service road, a bit scary when a train went by being so close to it.\r\n\r\nI will be nice to see the trains go down those tracks again.\r\n
Bill S
13 Aug 2009, 09:30
\r\nJeff\r\n\r\nYes, and the State of New Jersey doesn't do anything\r\nin maintenance until its to late.
Jeff
13 Aug 2009, 08:37
Bill, do you mean the tunnel underpasses that road traffic goes through? \r\n\r\nIf so, these would constantly need to be kept in maintenance even if the cutoff was never going to be used again. You wouldn't want them to collapse. They are about 90 years old now.
Bill S
13 Aug 2009, 08:29
Jeff\r\n\r\nYes, They are working the culverts on Lackawanna ,Roseville and Wolfs Lake roads. Airport road\r\nlooks to be finished.
Jeff
13 Aug 2009, 07:03
Bill, where is this taking place? On the viaduct, or all along the cutoff? Can you cite specific location I can go to and see this?
Bill S
13 Aug 2009, 05:28
\r\nAll the culverts are in the process of being repaired\r\nwith spalling and the cracks are being filled and \r\nsoon walls are being replaced on the east end. Thats some progress for now.\r\n\r\n\r\n
albo patch
06 Aug 2009, 19:26
MY SON AND I HAVE BEEN VISETING POINTS ALONG THE CUTOFF FOR YEARS. CANT WAIT TILL ITS A REALITY.FINALY IT LOOKS LIKE NJ HAS GOTTEN OFF THE POT !!!!
jim
01 Nov 2008, 10:09
January 2002 shows the latest stroke of bad luck for Greendel. The original 1911 bridge was deemed unsafe and was removed, creating another 'new grade crossing' on the Cutoff. The signal bridge was also destroyed during the project.
Jeff
14 Oct 2008, 07:47
I was just at the Pequest Fill section of the cutoff last week. I hadn't been in this area for 10+ years. It's so overgrown with trees with can see the top of the cutoff or make out it's level grade. I also decided to stop by the Greendell Station for a look and was surprised to find the overpass that went over the tracks on Wolf's Corner Rd is gone. The road now crosses the remains of the cutoff at "grade". Does anyone know when the bridge was removed, and why? There isn't even a trace of it remaining. You wouldn't even know it was there. There was also a signal bridge on the east side of the bridge facing the station and the interlocking tower, of course, that's gone too. The entire are is completely overgrown, and you can't see the interlocking tower from the road. Greendell station's roof has been replaced. Last time I was there it had a green Terra cotta roof. The cutoff was fenced on both sides of the road with "No Trespassing" and "State Property" signs. You couldn't walk the cutoff anyway because of the overgrowth. I have a photo I took while I was there posted on Panaramio: www.panoramio.com/photo/14607758
John Rovetto
06 Oct 2008, 13:56
I just went through the roseville tunnel. I have a picture. You can get there easily from CO Johnson park on Roseville Road in Byram.
Tony Scarnulis
03 Oct 2008, 11:47
I live in Wilkes-Barre, Pa, and worked on the N.J. central railroad back in the 50's. I used to ride the train from Hoboken to W-B, always thought it was one senic and beautiful trip. I would really love to see passenger rail service restored between Scranton "area" and Hoboken. The problem as I see it, is that it will never be an express speedy service, if the train has to go into downtown Scranton. A new terminal should be considered near the Wilkes-Barre Scranton international airport.
Eloise Schooley
04 Aug 2008, 15:52
schooley1@gmail.com
Eloise Schooley
04 Aug 2008, 15:50
to Richard D. Barber, I have photo's of the Johnsonburg cut-off. They have been scanned - if you would like a copy, be intouch, I will e-mail them to you. Eloise Schooley
Kevin Wong
02 Aug 2008, 17:39
Where exactly is the boxcar freight shed at Netcong? I can't seem to locate it.
Thomas F Seagrave
06 Jul 2008, 12:37
I was raised in the Greendell,Huntsville and Tranquility area from 1947 until I left my fathers home on the old Heddon Road in 1965. My first home was the smaller of the stone houses on the Panther Ledge Farms on which my father was employed, then in the late 1950's we moved into the village of Greendell and worked the farm that sat within 20 feet or so from the RR tracks, at that time the farm was owned by John Dobson who I'm told resided in the state of Mass. We finally settled on the Old Heddon Rd.on a dairy farm that I believe was owned at the time by Eugene Abel who was prop.of the general store in Greendell. I remember the Pequest Fill well,because my brothers and I went to Green Township School with some of the Coursin(sp)children who lived at the base of the fill near the tunnel coming from the Panther Ledge Farms. I hope to hear from some of the folk who lived near there during this period
Kenneth Brown
05 Jul 2008, 20:23
Our son and daughter-in-law own the octagonal stone house. It is a lovely place. New Jersey was a complete surprise on its lovely countryside. We are from Illinois.
H A Jewell
06 May 2008, 09:05
try going in from the changewater end by the abandoned trestle remains...do not try to access the cut anywhere near little hampton NJ...an infamous person is associated with that place and they take tresspassing seriously...
Richard D. Barber
03 Apr 2008, 06:43
I am looking for photos of the "DL&W RR Cut" made on the spur running spur Hampton (formerly Junction), Hunterdon County, NJ to Changewater on the Musconetong River.\r\n\r\nIt is over 200 feet deep and a single track was run through the "Cut".\r\n\r\nI visited the area in 2007, but was denied access to take pictures.\r\n\r\nthanks,\r\n\r\nDick Barber
Richard D. Barber
03 Apr 2008, 06:43
I am looking for photos of the "DL&W RR Cut" made on the spur running spur Hampton (formerly Junction), Hunterdon County, NJ to Changewater on the Musconetong River.\r\n\r\nIt is over 200 feet deep and a single track was run through the "Cut".\r\n\r\nI visited the area in 2007, but was denied access to take pictures.\r\n\r\nthanks,\r\n\r\nDick Barber
Keith Gatling
18 Mar 2008, 19:04
Thanks for the great piece. I'm originally from NJ and never knew about this. Now I know what the bridge over I-80 that I used to pass under on regular trips between Jersey and Syracuse was for. I also found out that the Pequest Fill passed right by the homes of family friends.\r\n\r\nWe took the drive when we visited Jersey just this past December, and I'm looking forward to the day when rail service is running on it again. I'd like to take it all the way from Scranton to Hoboken.
Lawrence Gault
28 Jan 2008, 18:45
Thank you for so much good information. I plan on visting the Paulins Kill Viaduct soon. Is it still possible to access the Rosville Tunnel on foot?\r\n\r\nThanks again
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