Making the case for the Rockaway Beach BranchBy
After a flurry of activity this winter concerning the reactivation of the LIRR’s Rockaway Beach Branch line and some Queens residents’ calls to turn the right-of-way into a park, news concerning the rail line’s fate has died down. Recently, though, local politicians have thrown their voice behind the rail line.
In mid-March, Community Board 14 voted to voice its approval for reactivation of the Rockaway Beach Branch spur. It’s unclear what, if anything, anyone will do with this non-binding vote, but the role this old rail spur could play in improving intra- and inter-borough transportation in Queens is tremendous. Recently, Vincent S. Castellano took to the Queens Courier to outline exactly why this rail line should be reactivated, and his argument deserves a look.
Castellano offers up both a history lesson and an argument for better rail service. The history is important though because it sets the stage for today’s depart. Essentially, in 1962, the then-privately operated LIRR shut down the 3.5-mile stretch of the Rockaway Beach Branch between Queens Boulevard and the Aquaduct now under the microscope. The A train started using the southern portion out to the Rockaways at a tremendous cost to mobility.
“By disconnecting the northern part of the Rockaway Beach Branch,” Castellano wrote, “the powers that be severed train service between south and north Queens. Have you ever wondered why a Rockaway train has to go through Manhattan to go to Flushing? This is why.”
After some good old bashing of local politicians who have failed to solve traffic and transportation problems for decades, Castellano gets down to the crux of his argument:
Let me suggest that the best plan for the future of Queens is the original one from 1952. Re-establish the connection between the existing A train at Aqueduct and White Pot Junction in Kew Gardens. This can be done simply by adding new NYCTA tracks on the 3.5 mile northern branch thereby making the connection to Queens Blvd. There the old Rego Park Station (near 63rd Drive) could be rebuilt as a transportation hub providing transfers between the subway and the LIRR mainline. The Rego Park Station is less than 10 minutes from Penn Station.
This short 3.5 mile stretch of track effectively connects the A, E, J, M, R and Z subway lines to the LIRR. In addition, it runs parallel to Woodhaven Blvd so it will reduce congestion there. It also crosses Jamaica Avenue, Atlantic Avenue and Metropolitan Avenue and terminates in the vicinity of Junction Blvd, Queens Blvd and the LIE. If you had to create this right of way today the cost would be staggering. Yet this priceless public asset (paid for with taxpayer dollars) just sits there collecting rust for the last 50 years. Have we elected the wrong people to manage public assets?
Making the new Rego Park Station a transportation hub in the center of Queens also makes other transportation options possible. Limited/Select bus services could be established from the Rego Park Station to LaGuardia Airport, Citifield, Queens College and Flushing. This would be a one transfer, one fare connection between north and south in Queens. It would finally make Queens College accessible in practice and not just in theory. Re-establishing the Rockaway Beach Branch would also reduce vehicular traffic and congestion since this plan is cheaper, faster and more efficient than existing mass transit plans and current vehicular options within Queens.
Castellano ends his piece proclaiming this spur to be “shovel-ready,” and I’m not so sure I’d go that far. Nothing in New York City without a time-consuming environmental review process is truly shovel-ready. Plus, to reactivate the rail line would require extensive testing and cleaning up of the preexisting infrastructure. Some parts of the right-of-way have been encroached upon, and the MTA would have to deal with those who need to be moved. It’s not quite as easy as a snap of the fingers.
This project, however, is one that merits serious consideration. Much of the infrastructure is there, and construction costs would pale in comparison with, say, Phase II of the Second Ave. Subway. It would truly right a transportation wrong and ease congestion and traffic throughout parts of Queens. With bits and spurts of momentum behind it, this project should stay on the front-burner until it moves forward. It makes too much sense for the region for it stall out.