Home Asides Rails-to-trails project in Queens inching forward

Rails-to-trails project in Queens inching forward

by Benjamin Kabak

A few weeks ago, I explored an on-again, off-again movement in Queens to convert parts of the unused Rockaway Beach Branch line into a park. At the time, I was skeptical of the move because once these rail rights-of-way are converted to trails, they are never restored to their transportation functionality. Doing the same in Queens would forever deprive the area of a potential rail access point.

Now, we hear that activists in Queens are pushing forward with the newly-named QueensWay project. As The Daily News reports, those who are angling for a park have convinced the Trust for Public Land to seek out private funding for a feasibility study. Once conducted, this study will present the potential costs of the problem and the security, safety and engineering work that would have to be done along the 3.5-mile railroad ROW in advance of opening a park. β€œI think people see this as opportunity to take abandoned land and do something great with it,” Andrea Crawford, head of Queens’ CB9 and a member of the Friends of QueenWay committee, said. β€œIt preserves green space and it opens up green space.”

I’m still skeptical of this effort. As I’ve said, the High Line works because it’s in a pedestrian-heavy neighborhood that already was a major tourist attraction. The QueensWay plans do not enjoy similar positioning in the city, and I would be far more intrigued by a feasibility study that assesses the challenges facing anyone who wishes to reactivate the rail line instead. For now, though, the project has the public’s attention, and I’ll keep an eye on it. You can too by following TheQueensWay on Twitter.

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15 comments

Alex C December 27, 2011 - 4:12 pm

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They’re really going to waste this ROW on this. There are so many reasons why this is an awful idea. This is something the residents of fictional Springfield would do; that is how unbelievably stupid this is.

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capt subway December 27, 2011 - 11:50 pm

It will be a damned shame and a terrible waste of what could potentially serve as a vital link in the city’s transit system, to wit: a fast, economical, one seat ride between JFK and Penn, GC and Atl-Bklyn.

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Adirondacker12800 December 27, 2011 - 4:36 pm

It already is a park, an unmaintained one. It hasn’t seen a train in 50 years. In other words there’s 50 year old trees where the tracks used to be.

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John Telesca December 27, 2011 - 6:05 pm

I think the 1st rails-to-trails in NYC was Kessina Park Corridor, and I don’t see anyone asking to put tracks back down there, even tho there’s neither subway nor LIRR in the area. It’s too bad.

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capt subway December 27, 2011 - 11:46 pm

That railroad line, except for the Creedmoor Spur, which branched off from the Main Line at Floral Park and which lasted into the early 1960s, had been abandoned since before the turn of the last century. as such it is hardly an apropos or meaningful comparison.

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capt subway December 28, 2011 - 12:21 am

Needless to say to reactive the line would require much work – but not anywhere near as much work as would be required to build an entirely new line, especially an underground line. The ROW, designed specifically for heavy rail electric train service, is completely intact from end to end (albeit in dilapidated condition) including the connections with the existing LIRR lines at Woodhaven Jct & White Pot Jct (Rego Pk). Thus the lion’s share of the work of building a heavy rail line has already been done.

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Nyland8 December 27, 2011 - 6:50 pm

I think the fact that rail-trails are rarely converted back to railroads has nothing to do with having become a linear park, and everything to do with not enough political will and public support for further mass-transit development. The fact is, rail-trails DO preserve the ROW. They keep it from being sold of piecemeal and they keep it from being squatted – and they do it by serving the public.

Now this particular ROW serves no function for LIRR – which is never going to compete with the A train to Rockaway – and which cannot share the Broad Channel crossing with that subway. So the question becomes, what can NYC Subway do with it? Is there anything to be gained in a Rego Park to Liberty Ave shuttle? No. A Rego Park to Aquaduct Raceway shuttle?? If Cuomo gets his way and Aquaduct become a casino with gaming tables, perhaps a tiny bit. A Rego Park to Howard Beach shuttle??? Well – at least that becomes an alternate to Kennedy Airport – which has the potential to pull a little traffic. But let’s face it, three or four stops without major connections is not enough to run a shuttle, even to JFK.

In order to make it a viable ROW again, it will have to go underground just before it hits the LIRR line and connect with the Rego Park E,M,R @ 63rd Drive on one end, and go to Howard Beach to connect with the airport at the other end. Less than that and it’s probably not viable as a shuttle ROW.

The bad news … tunnel mining is the most expensive way to expand any ROW. The good news … it’s a very short distance to dig – roughly one stop.

But if that idea, for that price, holds little or no appeal to the MTA – i.e. Rego Park E,M,R Shuttle to JFK – then perhaps its first best destiny IS a greenway to serve the community. Laying fallow serves nobody.

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capt subway December 28, 2011 - 12:05 am

No need to connect it to the IND Queens Blvd Line. The connections still exist to the LIRR mainline to Penn and the Atlantic Branch to Bklyn. The most expedient way to reactivate the line is to once again provide service via the LIRR form JFK to Penn (and eventually GCT) and JFK to Atl-Bklyn.

BTW there’s nothing so great about the “A” line service to HB/JFK, the train-to-the-train-to-the plane. It’s not a particularly direct route, and when it runs local, which is often, especially due to weekend GOs, it is excruciatingly slow (in excess of 50 minutes) and, depending on where you start/finish, makes anywhere from 25 to 30 station stops. The old LIRR timetables indicate the ride from HB to Penn was about 30-35 minutes with a total of 8 station stops. One would expect the reactivated service run time to be roughly the same.

So too, the schemes for the line propose taking over a piece of the Airtrain ROW (alleged by the PA to have been built to accommodate LIRR and/or “B” Div subway cars) thus making available a true one seat ride between JFK & Midtown and/or Bklyn.

Even the subway connection at Rego park were made instead of the LIRR connection the ride to Midtown would still be more direct and speedier.

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Nyland8 December 28, 2011 - 7:44 am

Points taken, Capt. Penn to HB – and soon, GCT to HB – would make perfect sense. In fact, so much so that one has to wonder why the AirTrain was built at all. It seems to serve Long Island more than NYC.

But given those facts, why would such a useful spur go fallow for so long? Is there really not enough potential traffic between Manhattan and JFK to justify it?

BTW, I never thought that “A” service to HB was “so great” … only that it was cheap, because swiping a MetroCard anywhere in the subway system would get you all the way there. Add a trip to Penn, a LIRR ticket, an infrequent schedule, and mass transit becomes much less attractive.

BUT … if you can make the journey with far fewer stops, and on a much shorter and more reliable timetable, then the attraction returns. Pull out the local stops, guarantee 20 minutes from Penn or GCT to HB, run them often enough at peak flying times, and suddenly you’ve got the business man’s dream! Even at ten times the price of a subway ride, people would still prefer it over taking a cab and surrendering to the whimsy of the traffic gods.

Imagine knowing that from anywhere in midtown, you could get to your boarding gate in half-an-hour? Reliably ?!?!? It could actually give mass-transit a good name!!

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Chet December 27, 2011 - 7:35 pm

It really is sad.

A train could easily go from lower Manhattan (Fulton Street) into Brooklyn’s Atlantic Terminal and then out to Queens, turn south on the unused ROW and go right into JFK Airport. Other trains could go through the East Side Access into Grand Central, or through existing tunnels into Penn Station.

Imagine landing at JFK and seeing express trains to Penn Station, Grand Central, and the Fulton Street Transit Center?

All it would take is a lot of money and political will…and brains.

Unfortunately, where decisions are made, all are in astronomically short supply.

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jim December 27, 2011 - 8:09 pm

All it would take is a lot of money

It would be cheaper to build an artificial island in New York Harbor and build a new airport on it.

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capt subway December 28, 2011 - 12:12 am

Actually, considering that the ROW, designed specifically for electric passenger train operation, is intact for its entire length, including the connections to the LIRR at Woodhaven Jct and White Pot (Rego Park) this would be a relatively cheap project.

This is another classic example of how the NIMBYs kill off worthy public transit projects.

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Evan December 27, 2011 - 11:06 pm

They can get enough political will to create a casino where people can throw away their money, and a sizable amount for a hare-brained idea like this, but for a rail line that would benefit all who live around it? Especially when the buses that serve those parts of Queens face a future of neglect? Nope, apparently our leaders can handle waste and can’t handle innovation.

Amazing.

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Rail advocates object to QueensWay trail :: Second Ave. Sagas January 4, 2012 - 4:17 pm

[…] rails-to-trails proponents move forward with a plan to convert part of the Rockaway Branch Line into a park, Queens’ transit […]

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Christopher January 4, 2012 - 11:24 pm

I grew up right next to this structure. Did anyone think for a second why would anyone in their right mind want to walk to length of those tracks? Where are you going to go? To the back of someone’s house? Somewhere in Ozone park that you are basically trapped in with out a car? I know the city cleaned up and all but all that will be going on at that park is crime. If you don’t need the structure, tear it down.

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