From Queens, a call to reactivate the Rockaway Beach BranchBy
Before Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced plans to build a convention center in Ozone Park, Queens residents were gearing up to square off over a decommissioned bit of former LIRR tracks. Park advocates with some vague stirrings of NIMBYism wanted to turn the rail right-of-way into a park while rail advocates rightly objected. The convention center proposal, complete with a vow by the developer to fund transit to the area, has thrust this small section of rusted rail tracks back into the spotlight, and now the trail advocates are fighting back hard.
In The Daily News today, Carl Perrera, David Krulewitch and John Rozankowski put forward a compelling argument for reacativating the Rockaway Beach Branch line, and they put forward various solutions for such a reactivation. Krulewitch and Rozankowski are no strangers to this issue, and Perrera has been advocating for rail use for years. Now, they offer up this argument:
Some have suggested the revival of the JFK-Super Express service. Since there are more A trains running today than in the 1980s, a service conflict would be created and the needs of the convention center would not be met. Fortunately, there is a better alternative: the revival of the northern section of the old Long Island Rail Road Rockaway branch. The Regional Rail Working Group Rockaway Subcommittee and other transit advocates have studied this line and offer the following options:
The Railroad Option would have the LIRR resume operations between Penn Station and Aqueduct. Two stations would be built — at Rego Park and at Aqueduct. The latter would allow transfers to the A train and to the Air Train (if it were extended from Howard Beach). If rail cars are developed with the ability to operate on both lines, a one-seat ride from Midtown to JFK would be created.
The Subway Option would divert the M or R subway line east of 63rd Drive (via an already built connection) to the northern section of the Rockaway line. The subway would converge with the A train north of the Aqueduct Station and continue into the Rockaways. At Rego Park, two stations would be built, one for the subway and one for the LIRR mainline to permit transfers between the two services.
This would allow Rockaway riders a quick trip to Midtown or to eastern points in Long Island. Under both options, additional stations can be added after consultation with the affected communities.
The trio note that, if the MTA is not interested in such a proposal, the city could, as it has done with the 7 line, foot the bill since it is the legal owner of the right-of-way. In fact, for any rail development along the Rockaway Beach Branch to see the light of day, someone else — the city, the state or Genting — will indeed have to foot the bill.
Furthermore, the three authors parry with neighbors who claim a rail line would have a negative impact on their quality of life. Perhaps noise for a few would be an issue, but an electric train line would not impact pollution levels. Plus, the increased transit access would lead to a jump in property values as well.
They end with a call for a Rockaway Line Reactivation Task Force: “Does CB9 want to be the spoiler conducive to the inundation of Ozone Park with traffic, thus continuing transit misery for Rockaway riders and to block a chance to link Queens in an effective crosstown service? Or does CB9 prefer to be a good neighbor and support a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to improve mass transit for everyone’s benefit?” The choice, to me, is an easy one. If the state is going to build a convention center in Ozone Park, they must do everything right, and that includes rail access.