As the effort to convert the Rockaway Beach Branch Line into a park gains state funds and media recognition, transit advocates are starting to raise their voices against the plan. As I’ve written in this space recently, we need to give rail its due as well. At the least, rail should be placed on equal footing with the QueensWay option, and at the most, reactivating a disused right-of-way should take clear precedent if it is technically feasible.
A few fine gentlemen both in need of promotions have gotten the proverbial ball rolling. Capt. Subway and Cap’n Transit have launched a petition urging Gov. Cuomo to reactivate the rail line, and Capt. Subway, writing on Cap’n Transit’s site, offers up his idea. He wants to send the R to Howard Beach via the Rockaway Beach Branch and restore G train service to the Queens Boulevard line.
Here’s a snippet of the argument:
Unfortunately the local tracks, while also theoretically capable of 30 trains per hour, are presently only running at about 20 trains per hour in the peak period. This is necessitated by the terminal at 71-Continental, which can only turn around about 20 trains per hour at the limit, and that not very well. For this reason the 63rd St connection to Queens Boulevard required a “robbing from Peter to pay Paul” switcheroo: the “G” line had to be cut back to Court Square and its slots on Queens Boulevard given over to another, Manhattan oriented service, first to the “V”, and now to the “M”. (For the first few years the “G” line ran to and from Forest Hills nights and weekends, when there was no “V” train service. But this passenger friendly part-time service died to make weekend service changes more doable).
Of course it needn’t be that way. Even in the original MTA plans from the late ‘60s “G” service would have remained intact. The express by-pass alone would have insured this. This is where the old LIRR Rock Line comes into play. By connecting this line to the Queens Boulevard line east (subway north) of 63rd Drive station – the tunnel bell mouths are there specifically for that scenario – the path to another local service terminal would be created, i.e. now the “G”, along with the “M” and “R” could run along the Queens Boulevard local tracks, with one of these service branching off after 63rd Drive and heading off to a new terminal at either Howard Beach or, it would be hoped, JFK, and thus not threatening to overwhelm 71-Continental as a terminal. In this way peak trains per hour on the Queens Boulevard local tracks could be raised from the present day 20 trains per hour up to 27 ½ trains per hour, given the current timetables on those three lines. This would be a significant improvement in service, especially if the “G” were equipped with full length trains.
These are the transit advantages of reactivating the Rockaway Branch as a subway line. Neighborhoods like Woodhaven, Rego Park and Ozone Park get quicker service to Midtown. Greenpoint and Williamsburg can be reconnected to Astoria and Jackson Heights with revived G train service. Local stations on the Queens Boulevard line see seven more trains an hour.
I have very little commentary to add. This proposal is an ideal one for many reasons and would require far less capital investment than building a new line from scratch. At a time when mobility matters and vulnerabilities have taken center stage, reactivating the rail line deserves as much attention, if not more, than the QueensWay initiative. So check out the two Captains’ efforts and give that petition a good skim.