Home Asides MTA looking to reactivate SI’s North Shore Rail

MTA looking to reactivate SI’s North Shore Rail

by Benjamin Kabak

As far as transit goes, Staten Island is the neglected borough. It has some express bus service, a ferry and one rail line, but hardly anyone who lives on the island thinks highly of its mass transit options. Borough President James Molinaro has made beefing up public transportation one of his biggest issues, and today, the MTA announced a $1.5 million contract with SYSTRA Engineering to determine the fate of the North Shore Rail line. SYSTRA, a frequent MTA consultant, will spend nine months studying whether the rail line should be reactivated for trains or turned into dedicated bus lanes. (For a sense of the route, check out this Wikipedia entry.)

After this initial study is complete, the MTA would have to engage in a costly Environmental Impact Study. Although the money isn’t there yet for the EIS, it’s promising to see the MTA expending some effort on Staten Island, and the MTA acknowledged as much. “We’re excited to be moving forward with new ideas for improving mobility on the north and west shores of Staten Island,” MTA spokesman Jeremy Soffin said to SILive.com’s Maura Yates. “This study will shed light on the benefits and costs of several transit possibilities, and we look forward to an informed dialogue with Staten Island residents.”

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Scott E October 23, 2009 - 1:51 pm

If I understand this right, the borough – and not the MTA – commissioned this study. An MTA spokesman says this is a positive and exciting step, yet earlier this week, Walder spoke of a slowdown on new expansion projects. This sounds like a power struggle in the making.

Does the MTA own this track, or is owned by one of the freight railroads that connects the track to New Jersey? I wonder if we might see the possibility of an entity other than MTA providing service here.

Benjamin Kabak October 23, 2009 - 1:57 pm

Well, the MTA has hired the consultant and is writing them the proverbial check. I don’t think Molinaro is footing the bill for it with SI money, but I could be wrong.

I think they’ll do the study and sit on it until rosier economic times arrive.

Marc Shepherd October 23, 2009 - 2:06 pm

I think you’re reading a bit too much into Walder’s comments. He didn’t actually refer to any “slowdown” of existing projects. What he said is that starting new ones would not be his priority. That is an emminently sensible position, given the funds available and the MTA’s poor track record on the projects it already has.

I can practically guarantee you that, at some point, Walder will re-open the subject of expansion. It’s obviously too soon to tell whether the North Shore Rail Line will be part of it. Transit executives tend to favor expansion. Walder’s current stance is simply a pragmatic response to current conditions, which could easily change in a few years, after he has a chance to gauge the political feasibility of this and other projects.

Boris October 23, 2009 - 4:39 pm

I wish and pray that the restored service will be heavy rail. I don’t know if NJ Transit and SIR trains are compatible, but building light rail or BRT here means this line will never be connected to Brooklyn or New Jersey.

Alon Levy October 23, 2009 - 6:36 pm

No, they’re not. NJ Transit trains have to weigh about twice as much.

Jerrold October 23, 2009 - 3:43 pm

Also let’s not forget that “dedicated bus lanes” are a joke, unless they are physically separated from the rest of the roadway. If they are not, everybody drives on them.

Marc Shepherd October 23, 2009 - 3:59 pm

Well, this particular ROW is physically separated from the rest of the roadway.

Benjamin Kabak October 23, 2009 - 4:23 pm

As Marc said, this ROW wouldn’t be open to cars. It would be a bus-only route without any auto access.

Alon Levy October 23, 2009 - 4:38 pm

Initially, it might be bus-only. However, what always happens in practice is that there’s asphalt creep. A train gets more passengers than a bus, even holding all other things constant; and here things are not constant – a bus would not have off-board fare collection, for a start. So what happens is that they put a bus lane, which underperforms; then they decide to allow more cars on the road, perhaps with HOV restrictions, until at the end it becomes just another highway.

Cap'n Transit October 23, 2009 - 4:52 pm

In case you think Alon is just being alarmist, they’re thinking of doing just this for a former railway in Miami.

Red October 23, 2009 - 4:54 pm

Who’s to say there won’t be off-board fare collection?

Alon Levy October 23, 2009 - 6:34 pm

The MTA’s proposed dedicated bus lane doesn’t come with off-board collection.

Evan October 23, 2009 - 4:08 pm

can Walder stay in this position longer than his term? Are there term limits for this position? This is all obviously dependent on the kind of job he does.

Benjamin Kabak October 23, 2009 - 4:23 pm

He has a six-year term with a Golden Parachute provision that should keep him there for the duration of the term. At that point, the Governor could decide to reappoint him or go in another direction.

Cap'n Transit October 23, 2009 - 4:47 pm

I just hope they don’t come into the study already having decided on light rail and excluding commuter rail.

Alon Levy October 23, 2009 - 6:35 pm

Light rail – that is, glorified streetcars – is a modern technology in the US. Commuter rail is old and tired.

The flip side of thinking that what worked for your grandfather will work for you is thinking that pizzazz will make everything better.

Jerrold October 23, 2009 - 6:15 pm

I hope everybody knows that you are talking about the railroad “right-of-way”.
At first, I was wondering: A row? A row of what things?

rhywun October 23, 2009 - 8:44 pm

This would be great to reach Snug Harbor and the awesome botanic & Chinese gardens there. Otherwise, what’s out there? The area doesn’t look populated enough to me to support a heavy rail line.

Alon Levy October 23, 2009 - 10:42 pm

The ROW is already there. The costs of light rail and heavy rail are about the same. The main advantage of light rail, from the politicians’ perspective, is that the new technology affords more opportunities for patronage; heavy rail means modifying a couple of R46s, which isn’t as lucrative as making someone open a new plant in the area just for Staten Island’s LRV needs.

The area is reasonably dense; as of 2000, it averaged about 5,000-6,000 people per km^2 away from St. George. It’s higher than the average density in Berlin, where heavy rail is perfectly successful.

rhywun October 24, 2009 - 12:04 pm

The average density of Berlin is misleading because it has huge areas of water and forest within the city limits. I can assure you that the neighborhoods served by U or S-Bahn in Berlin are far denser than anything on Staten Island.

On the other hand, the north shore of SI does appear more dense overall than the south shore so by that measure the plan makes “sense”. But then I look at the large swaths of Brooklyn and Queens that have no service and are far denser and wonder when something will be done to address that.

Alon Levy October 24, 2009 - 3:59 pm

The advantage of the North Shore Line is that because the ROW is there and it’s on the surface, it’s cheaper than underground construction. The equivalent in Brooklyn and Queens is Triboro Line. Unfortunately, the only really dense neighborhoods without rail transit are those between the 7 and LaGuardia, which have batted down proposals to extend the N/W.

Jerrold October 24, 2009 - 8:17 pm

Does anybody here know why the North Shore railroad line was closed down to begin with?
After all, they never closed down the presently existing SIR line, even though in those pre-Verrazano Bridge days Staten Island had a much lower population.

Alon Levy October 25, 2009 - 12:30 am

I think the North Shore Line had lower ridership than the SIR mainline.

ajedrez November 19, 2010 - 8:53 pm

It is projected to have similar ridership.

quadboy October 27, 2009 - 3:09 pm

They have been talking and studying and talking and studying this for decades. This is just an example of all talk and no action. Its the same conclusion too. It can be done but they don’t want to spend the money.

I want this to be built but I don’t think ill see it in my lifetime. Too much red tape. All talk. No action.

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