Home Staten Island NYCEDC urges reactivation of SI’s North Shore rail

NYCEDC urges reactivation of SI’s North Shore rail

by Benjamin Kabak

An overview of Staten Island's North Shore ROW. (Via the MTA's North Shore Alternatives Analysis)

For the past few days, the idea of building out the 7 line to Secaucus has caught our collective imaginations. While that plan certainly has its appeal from a regional perspective, within the five boroughs, certain areas still suffer from subpar rail access though, and if it’s possible to improve access without spending billions on a cross-Hudson tunnel, the city should do so.

Prime for development is Staten Island’s North Shore. This underdeveloped area features a rail right of way that has had a mixed history. It opened to customers 120 years ago and served passengers for 63 years. From 1953-1989, the ROW serviced freight trains from New Jersey, but it shut for 16 years. Since 2005, the North Shore rail line has seen limited freight service, and the ROW has been problematic for community development to say the least. The rail line is in poor shape, and the ROW has cut off access to Staten Island’s waterfront.

Late last year, Staten Island pols and the MTA started making noises about reactivating the North Shore rail line, and early this year, the authority unveiled an alternatives analysis at an Open House. At the behest of and with money from Staten Island’s borough president, the authority delved into the island’s subpar mass transit. During the open house session, the authority presented various alternatives for improving transit along Staten Island’s North Shore. These plans included a light or heavy rail option for the ROW, turning the ROW into a dedicated BRT bus lane, improving local bus routes and expanding ferry and/or water taxi service. (For more on these options, check out the MTA’s NSAA planning page.)

Currently the MTA is working to turn the long list of potential projects into a short list before selecting a locally preferred alternative by mid-2011, but if the New York City Economic Development Corp. has its way, the locally preferred alternative will involve reactivating passenger rail service on the North Shore right-of-way. The NYCEDC has released preliminary results of a two-year study entitled North Shore 2030, and NY1’s Amanda Farinacci detailed, the study calls for rail service along the North Shore.

Unfortunately, the NYCEDC’s position is more nuanced that a flat-out call for rail service. They’ve identified what it would take to turn Staten Island’s North Shore into a more economically viable community and seem to believe that the rail line is in the way. At various points, the one-track route has a right-of-way of upwards of 100 feet, and the at- and below-grade areas block direct access to the waterfront, a vital part of the rehabilitation plan.

In its most recent presentation (PDF), the NYCEDC has urged the MTA to relocate the at-grade portions of the right-of-way. By doing so, waterfront businesses will see their land-use conflicts fade away, and the city will be able to improve the pedestrian and bicycle corridor along the shore. No cost estimates for the work have been released yet.

For now, the planning work will continue on this not-so-ambitious project. It should be a priority, but the MTA isn’t spending significant chunks of money on anything other than its current megaprojects. As this deal doesn’t have the same obvious real estate benefits as the Subway to Secaucus, the city won’t embrace it as readily as it has that crazy plan for the 7 train. Still, a direct rail line to the ferry terminal along Staten Island’s North Shore would serve as a prime impetus to development.

Perhaps then we should be thinking small and ensuring projects such as this are realized before we start sending the subway to far-off lands across the Hudson River. Perhaps we should ponder a subway tunnel to Staten Island instead of Secaucus. After all, it’s been nearly 100 years in the making.

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Alon Levy November 19, 2010 - 1:41 am

I’m all for this, but to control costs they should keep it at grade as much as possible.

J B November 19, 2010 - 4:39 am

Would it be possible to through-run trains from the current SIRR onto the North Shore line? I would imagine that would make this line even more useful to Staten Island residents, and not just a conduit for bringing people to the ferry.

Alon Levy November 19, 2010 - 4:42 am

Not if trains are to serve St. George terminal. The North Shore Line enters St. George through the Ballpark station.

Emilio November 19, 2010 - 8:01 am

What amazes me about these projects is that portions of Queens and Brooklyn which have a population density five times of that in Staten Island are complete underserved by transite, and yet the north shore of SI, which is mostly single-family homes except for some patches in Port Richmond and St. George get this project reactivated just for politics.

About 162,000 people live on the north shore of SI, and that’s taking a generous swath of the island, down to the SIE. More than 500,000 NYC residents live in Eastern Queens and are much more removed from the city and its subway.

Oh, wait, they haven’t threatened to secede, so never mind.

Judge November 19, 2010 - 8:28 am

I’m amazed by the Staten Island prioritization as well. How does this receive much more official attention than the Triboro line? Heck, outside of some voiced support by two MTA chairmen, there doesn’t seem to be any MTA literature (save for a quip in a powerpoint) about planning for a reactivated Bay Ridge line

Edward November 19, 2010 - 10:03 am

How exactly does Staten Island get so much “prioritization?” When was this project “reactivated”? Last I looked, the city was not putting shovels in the ground rebuilding a once vital rail line.

Why is it every time Staten Island asks for something, we all of a sudden become this political powerhouse that muscles it’s hefty weight and pushes the rest of the city around? We’re talking about studying the reactivation of a rail line that closed down 60 years ago even though the population of SI has quadrupled since then. That’s all folks. So much for “prioritization.” Meanwhile, enjoy your one-seat subway ride to Manhattan.

Christopher November 19, 2010 - 9:14 am

Not just portions of Brooklyn and Queens with more population, but portions of Queens and Brooklyn served by exactly the same sorts of freight lines that could have passenger service again while improving connections between the two boroughs.

Edward November 19, 2010 - 10:08 am

Would that be Eastern Queens, which has access to the #7 train? Eastern Queens, where riders catch the LIRR in Douglaston, Bayside, Flushing, etc? The part of Queens with MTA express bus service to Midtown? The area nearest the LIE, a 30 min drive to Manhattan (with a free bridge at 59th St)? Is that the part of Queens you’re talking about?

And FYI, the threat to secede was deep-sixed about 20 years ago. Nobody’s talking secession except you.

PBK November 19, 2010 - 10:32 am

Emilio should probably have said Southeastern Queens. All you have to do is look at the huge crowds lined up for buses at Parsons-Archer to see the need. The Archer Avenue line was supposed to serve those areas, but the money ran out.

However, there are still huge swaths of non-Southeastern Queens that could use a train. Fresh Meadows, Utopia Parkway, northern Flushing, Whitestone.

There are also areas like Middle Village and Glendale that are under-served, though at least some residents there are happy about that, and don’t get me started about the ROW of the LIRR’s Rockaway branch.


Edward November 19, 2010 - 10:42 am

Fair enough, but transit extensions to SE Queens and to Staten Island are not mutally exclusive. They can both be worked out if there’s the need for it. My point is, every time SI asks for a study on rebuilding a line that we had in the 1890s, all of a sudden the postings get nasty and SI is throwing it’s weight around and blackmailing the city into doing something that’s not good for the life of NY.

I’m wondering when exactly SI got all this “political muscle” and started flexing it? Was it when the city stopped funding the Baltimore and Ohio’s North Shore line, thereby forcing it to be shut down just as the Island’s population was set to explode? Was it when Sen. Marchi put a rider in a bill that forced the MTA to send 5% of all new buses to SI, since SI has 5% of the city’s population? Before that, we were riding in buses that had been schlepped around to the other four boros for 15 years, finally coming to SI to fall apart and die. Was it before are after the garbage dump closed down? Just curious.

Peter November 19, 2010 - 11:17 pm

>I’m wondering when exactly SI got all this “political >muscle” and started flexing it?

When the S.I. congressional delegation got one-way tolls mandated on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, resulting in huge pollution and congestion problems on Canal Street that persist to this day.


Alon Levy November 19, 2010 - 5:16 pm

Northern Flushing, Whitestone, etc., would need a full subway. The advantage of leveraging existing ROWs is that you can build rapid transit for the cost of light rail, which makes otherwise marginal corridors attractive.

SEAN November 19, 2010 - 10:41 am

#1. SI has the highest per capita income in the city, around $75,000.
#2. every so often you here rumblings reguardings of SI wanting to become it’s own city. Of course it is most likely not going to happen, but if residents really want it, let them have there way & let them deal with the consiquenses.

Edward November 19, 2010 - 10:46 am

#1. So since Staten Islanders work for a living, schlep to the city and do good jobs, thereby making $75k per year, they don’t deserve decent transit? Would you rather we go on welfare, sit at home watching Jerry Springer and therefore not need to take mass transit to Manhattan?

#2. Every now and then you [hear] rumblings of secession? When was the last time you heard that? Try going back to about 1993 for any serious discussion on this issue. If you’re still hearing rumblings, they are in your head and yours alone.

Emilio November 19, 2010 - 12:26 pm

Wow, way to build straw men. So if you think that Flushing, the #7 most congested subway station in the system services Eastern Queens, south and north, you need to take a stroll with me to Oakland Gardens and Glen Oaks, among many other areas.

As to express buses, let’s see. Staten Island has 20 X lines, Queens has 21 X lines, but out of those only 13 run west of the Van Wyck Expressway.

So, western Queens, both South, Central and North, has a bigger population than all of Staten Island, yet fewer express buses. And same amount of subway lines: 0.

I’m not saying SI doesn’t deserve this, I’m saying there are many areas of NYC that deserve a second look, too.

As to secession, NYC has always been terrified of it. And with good reason, as you state. SIers have formally voted to secede (no other borough has come close to that) and SI’s state senator was mulling yet another richmond county secession bill just a couple of years. Since my name is not Andrew J. Lanza, the rumblings are not just in my head alone.

Edward November 19, 2010 - 12:29 pm

Emelio, we get it: you hate Staten Island. Duly noted.

Emilio November 19, 2010 - 12:58 pm

Who’s Emelio?

So after a detailed reply to your personal attack, all you can muster is that? Wow, talk about bluster.

Edward November 19, 2010 - 1:18 pm

Emilio is the guy who posts snarky replies to obvious misspellings.

I think my very cogent posting at 10:42 am regarding transit options to SI and Queens not being mutually exclusive speaks for itself. Enjoy your weekend.

Alon Levy November 19, 2010 - 5:19 pm

It’s not snarky. Misspelling someone’s name is a way to signal contempt. About 95% of the time I’ve seen people misspell my name as Alan, it was while flaming me.

SEAN November 19, 2010 - 3:06 pm

What was that ramble all about? I wasn’t getting personal with you!

Just pointing out that SI residents earn the most in NYC & everyone knows that money gets atention in political circles. As a result when SI residents talk about being the forgotten borrough & talk about leaving NYC, people listen if only for a little while. The last time I herd this topic being discussed was when Rudy was mayor.

I think you need to cut your coffee intake, it will keep you calmer & perhaps keep you from going into personal atack mode.

Edward November 19, 2010 - 3:12 pm

A two-point reply to your two-point posting is a rant? Or is anyone who disagrees with you automatically a crazy person?

SEAN November 19, 2010 - 5:23 pm

Are you asking me if I think you are a “crazy Person?” Please don’t make me answer that, I don’t want to turn this into an ugly thred. Besides I think you already know the answer anyway.

ajedrez November 19, 2010 - 8:13 pm

Staten Island actally doesn’t have the highest per capita income-Manhattan does. See this:

That $75,000 figure is the median household income, which is pretty accurate. It isn’t ridiculously higher than the other boroughs (and the North Shore has even lower per capita incomes than the rest of SI), so that money=power argument doesn’t work. (SI still is pretty politically powerful, though, considering it has 6% of the population of NYC)

Frank B November 19, 2010 - 11:46 am

That’s a ridiculous notion. It’s a pretty well-established notion that “If you build it, they will come.” Brooklyn, Queens, and The Bronx would in no way be as dense as they are now if we hadn’t built Elevateds and Subways to places like Flushing and Coney Island.

This is about helping your fellow man, your fellow New Yorker. It greatly improves transit options, and maybe will make Staten Island dense enough to make finishing that subway tunnel worthwhile enough for the politicians to do it.

Staten Island is the final frontier of New York City. It is the only borough that still has lots of underdeveloped, underutilized, or completely untouched land. Staten Island needs to be developed, and if its going to happen, it will be dense because a short commute ensures people will want to live there.

I have no dog in this fight. I happen to have absolutely no family, friends, or anyone I vaguely know whom live on the North Shore on Staten Island, nor can in my wildest dreams imagine anyone living along the north shore in the future. But the borough needs a least a direct ride to Manhattan, damn it. They deserve a second subway line. Maybe even a few streetcar lines to fill the gap. This is the first step in that direction.

It’s not like we’re extending the 7 train at our own expense to benefit commuters who won’t help to pay for its operating costs. These are our own guys. And its not a case of Us Vs. Them in the case of the 5 Boroughs Vs. NJ or the 4 Boroughs Vs. Staten Island. The fact of the matter is that proper transit everywhere, even if we imagine we’ll only use it ourselves but once or twice in our lives, truly benefits everyone.

Alon Levy November 19, 2010 - 5:21 pm

It’s a pretty well-established notion that “If you build it, they will come.”

No. It’s a pretty well-established notion that in some circumstances, if you build a line through unpopulated territory, it will develop. Those circumstances include, for example, favorable zoning and an easy process of obtaining building permits. Densifying already developed areas is much harder, especially when the service level provided is transit to St. George.

Bolwerk November 20, 2010 - 11:10 am

Densifying is pretty doable…with favorable zoning and an easy process of obtaining building permits.

Michael November 19, 2010 - 10:01 am

There have been many encroachments on the North Shore right-of-way over the years, so property takings would be an issue, and part of the right-of-way between (roughly) Clove Road and Jersey Street is literally in or under water. Only west of Clove Road, i.e. from the Port Richmond area west, is the right-of-way more or less intact.
At the same time, Richmond Terrace is a lousy, if necessary, route for surface transit (currently, the S40/S90 bus). It is narrow in many places, winding, and has a lot of truck traffic.
Would a rail option serve any economic development goals in its territory? I don’t think so, in the absence of some sort of master plan for Staten Island’s North Shore. On the other hand, an extension of the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail across the Bayonne Bridge (or its replacement) might be a boost to business and new development on the North Shore and along the HBLR, especially in Bayonne. I think a New Jersey connection, either to HBLR or to Newark Airport, would be the only way a rail option on the North Shore would be attractive. Absent that, make the North Shore right-of-way a busway as much as possible.

Edward November 19, 2010 - 10:23 am

Unfortunately Michael, you’re correct. Even if this line were rebuilt to pristine conditions, the real estate market for high-density, upscale housing is just not there. Most folks who pay $500k for a condo do not want a view of the oil tanks in Bayonne, or have to travel via rail/ferry/subway to get to Midtown Manhattan.

In fact, there is an empty 10-storey building on Richmond Terrace at Nicholas Street, a 10-min walk to the ferry terminal. Not sure if the developer ran out of funding or if the market was just not there, but this very nice, high-end apt bldg sits empty, with balconies overlooking the Harbor and Lower Manhattan. I really don’t see a market this type of apt house being build along the North Shore rail line when a similar bldg just downt the street from the ferry is not even habitated.

SEAN November 19, 2010 - 10:23 am

I’m going to agree with you. Bringing the HBLR from Bayone to Si over the northshore line or some other means,plus extending the R from Bay Ridge to SI are the best ways currently to add aditional rapid transit capasity.

Edward November 19, 2010 - 10:34 am

Ideally (if $$ was not an issue), an extension of the B’way IRT #1 from South Ferry to St. George would be best. Bypass B’klyn altogether via straight-shot across the harbor, a 10-min subway ride at most. The IRT transfers to every other line somewhere along its route, so SIers can get to the rest of the city no problem.

This would also save the city tons of $$ since the SI Ferry would instantly become redundant and could be discontinued (a sad trade since the ferry is kinda nice, but one many Islanders would be happy to give up for a quick, one or two seat ride to Manhattan).

SEAN November 19, 2010 - 3:16 pm

I never thaught about that. That could work, but could it be linked to either the existing SIRT or the northshore line once across the harbor?

Alon Levy November 19, 2010 - 6:23 pm

Sure – just make sure to build it to mainline specs, so the line could be restored to mainline status. Ideally you’d want it to turn into the main cross-city north-south commuter line, hooking into the Harlem Line. It could even be possible to provide a cross-platform transfer to LIRR/NJT trains at Fulton Street.

It’s all very expensive, but the Manhattan-SI tunnel would by far be the highest-cost item. Once you get from SI to South Ferry, continuing north to Grand Central is not that expensive.

AlexB November 19, 2010 - 11:25 am

There aren’t that many unused or redundant railroad rights-of-way in the NYC area. I’ve seen a proposal for transit to be used on each one. This would be one of the cheaper ones (it wouldn’t involve expensive and disruptive construction to existing subway tunnels) and would probably face minimal opposition from the neighborhood, unlike the Rockaway Branch right-of-way. In any case, it should be designed to subway standards or the light rail standards of the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail system.

Eric F. November 19, 2010 - 11:47 am

Wouldn’t it be cheaper to run buses on the RoW? You’d have a straight shot across the north shore, and it wouldn’t take a gazillion years and a gazillion dollars to actually construct a passenger rail line and acquire new rail stock. If the RoW was severely constrained, you could even do it as a single lane, with buses taking local roads back on the non-dominant route during peak hours. Best of all, you could allow the RoW to be used by other vehicles at off hours, maybe for a toll and defray the cost that way.

Edward November 19, 2010 - 11:57 am

I think that’s really the way to go here Eric. Los Angeles has done similar work with old railroad ROWs. Articulated buses running along this corridor, with “station” stops every half-mile or so, could cover the 7 mile route in 15-20 mins, unlike the woeful S40/90 Richmond Terrace bus, which takes a good half-hour to complete this route (when it runs, which is spotty at best; I’ve waited 30-40 mins for an S40 bus during rush hour only to arrive at St. George just in time to miss the ferry).

The cost of paving the route and adding bypasses and station pullovers would be demonstrably less than rebuilding a rail line 60+ years after it closed. This part of SI really doesn’t need the ultra-high density of a dedicated rail line. A busway would move a decent amount of rush-hour riders to St. George much quicker than the clunky S40 bus ever could.

Frank B November 19, 2010 - 12:13 pm

Listen, not for nothing, but taking a perfectly rehabilitatable, practically untouched rail line and replacing it with a bus is pathetic. Nobody, and I mean nobody, writes checks for buses in terms of making an investment, especially in comparison with a rail line. People schieve buses. They like trains. Period. That’s why Hudson-Bergen was worth nothing, and now it’s worth something. My cousin lives in Hoboken, and he honestly pays more rent than he would in Prospect Heights. Trains are money.

Plus, over the long run, there are higher operating costs to run a bus rather than a train.

Edward November 19, 2010 - 12:25 pm

True, I’d take a train over a bus any day. But, the density levels of Hoboken, Jersey City et al are much higher than Staten Island ever will be. Hoboken and JC are geographically very small and have direct rail connections to Manhattan. Staten Island is huge (three times the size of Manhattan and slightly smaller than B’klyn and Queens). The population is spread out all over the place, much like Los Angeles. High-density rail makes sense if there are thousands of riders at every stop, which will not be the case unless SI gets a direct connection to Manhattan via subway. Since that is a huge pipe-dream that will likely never happen in our lifetimes, speeding up the commuting times of North Shore residents for far less than it would cost to open a rail line that will be used mainly during rush hours only is a good compromise. If it spurs development along the North Shore, so much the better, but without a one-seat ride to Manhattan, that prospect is dubious at best.

Eric F. November 19, 2010 - 1:22 pm

Trains are more romantic, better-looking and the like, and generally more comfortable to ride in. For this purpose, however, we are talking about a short line which essentially is little more than a shuttle to the ferry terminal. Any train line is going to have little ridership much of the time. A bus line could allow for very quick shots across the north shore at much lower cost, and provide residents with utility when not being used exclusively by buses.

I also noticed a strong desire by advocates to connect S.I. to the light rail line running down Bayonne. I have no idea what it would cost to run all that equipment over a soon to be raised Bayonne Bridge, but a bus could easily come off this RoW and up the bridge to the 8th street station opening in a couple of months.

Edward November 19, 2010 - 1:27 pm

Actually, there already is a bus that runs along Richmond Ave and over the Bayonne Bridge to the HBLR station at 34th St in Bayonne. Not sure of the ridership on this Limited bus route, but at least it’s a start. Over course it’s kinda useless since, if you work in Manhattan, you still have to take a bus to the rather slow HBLR, then transfer to PATH trains at JC or Hoboken for your trip to Manhattan’s West Side/Sixth Ave corridor. It takes a good 90 mins to complete this trip even on a good day, which is about the same time it would take if you rode a bus to the ferry and then took the subway to Midtown.

Frank B November 19, 2010 - 2:40 pm

Did the Port Authority finally decide what they’re going to do? If that’s the case and they’re just going to raise the bridge, it was built with provision for light rail, and expanding light rail in two lines along the North Shore and down Richmond Avenue makes perfectly fine sense.

Al D November 19, 2010 - 2:42 pm

If a bus, what’s wrong then with the current S40/S90? The North Shore RR duplicates this route.

Just increase the frequency, and give it traffic signal priority. I can’t believe it’s as slow as say the M23 or the B41.

That’s save a whole bunch of greenbacks

Edward November 19, 2010 - 2:50 pm

Richmond Terrace is about as winding, twisting and, in most parts, a two-lane road as you’ll find anywhere in the northeast. Buses routinely get caught behind truck traffic and have to slow down considerably at many hairpin, 90-degree turns. It’s basically a colonial-era footpath that hugs the shore at every turn and has been slightly widened and paved over and given the hilarious nomenclature “terrace.”

Since most of the old North Shore RoW is still serviceable (as far as it being relatively straight and able to handle limited bus traffic), it would cut a good 15 mins off the commute via S40 bus, which is by far the worst route on Staten Island. On top of this, articlulated buses that hold 100+ riders could easily navigate a dedicated RoW versus slow and winding Richmond Terrace.

ajedrez November 19, 2010 - 8:27 pm

Actually, the S40/S90 is one of the fastest routes on Staten Island. There is very little traffic except at a couple of choke points. During rush hour, it can get crowded, and slow down a bit, but most of the time, the lack of speed is caused by buses being crowded, not caught in traffic.

The problem isn’t the S40/S90-it is the routes a bit further inland-the S46/S96 and S48/S98. A simple bus line (even on a dedicated ROW) won’t attract enough passengers away to relieve them.

NorthShorer November 20, 2010 - 12:01 am

The S40 can be fast but it’s also highly unreliable. And that’s not good when you have a specific ferry to catch, and you miss it by a minute or too. The Staten Island Railway is always on-time and I’m sure a north shore rail line would be too.

Andrew November 21, 2010 - 11:48 am

It isn’t very useful if you work in Manhattan, but it’s extremely useful if you work in Jersey City.

ajedrez November 21, 2010 - 4:29 pm

The S89 gets approximately 1,000 riders per day over the whole route (counting people making intra-Staten Island trips). From what I’ve heard, it costs about $1.4 million per year. If you do the math, $1.4 million divided by 240,000 annual passengers is about $5.83 per person, out of which about $1.66 is paid by the passenger, for a farebox recovery ratio of about 29%.

Alon Levy November 19, 2010 - 5:26 pm

The construction costs are identical for buses and trains. The operating costs favor rail, which is electrified and much more energy-efficient for the capacity provided.

Rolling stock isn’t expensive. A subway car costs $1.5 million – maybe a little more now if Kawasaki tries to flex its muscles. The dominant cost of this line would not be the stock but the fixed plant.

It has nothing to do with romanticism. Bustituting a usable rail corridor is something you’d do if you wanted the project to fail. It’d not make any more sense than trying to railstitute the XBL, with its train-unfriendly geometry.

Bolwerk November 20, 2010 - 11:16 am

When both alternatives are available, buses make sense when travel volumes are very low. That’s why it’s astounding to see the idiots who get appointed to the MTA and NJ Transit trying to turn rail corridors like LIRR branches or the Princeton Dinky into bus services. (Given current regulations, turning them into “light rail” services might make sense to save labor costs.)

Five-Link Friday: Mayor of Nowhere Edition - NYTimes.com November 19, 2010 - 12:00 pm

[…] have the creation of a transit line along existing rail right-of-way to thank. Second Avenue Sagas details the state of things at the other end of the ferry, where the city’s Economic Development Corporation has thrown some […]

John November 19, 2010 - 1:44 pm

1.) Heavy rail cars on the North Shore line are problematic because the line runs along the shore for so much of its distance, the population density isn’t there unless you can teach marine life and seagulls to use Metrocards. A light rail line would make more sense, unless you can show that due to the existing SIRT the economies of scale would make it cheaper to maintain one fleet of rail cars (R-179?) than to have a heavy rail fleet for the south shore and a light rail one for the north shore.

2.) The only way you’re ever getting a subway tunnel connection to Staten Island funded would be to piggy back the plan on top of Rep. Nadler’s long-sought Cross-Harbor Tunnel, which would have a bi-level tunnel similar to 63rd Street, and then connect the freight line to the Howland Hook rail yard. That could then use the Arthur Kill bridge to access New Jersey and the rest of the mainland while hooking up with the SBR’s Bay Ridge line (cutting off about 200 miles on the current freight connection from New England to the Mid-Atlantic states and opening up the Brooklyn shorefront to more cargo business) while the subway line could be tied into the BMT Fourth Avenue line at one end and have a transfer with, or a connection to, the SIRT somewhere between St. George and Clifton.

3.) Since the NIMBYs would go batshirt crazy over a surface level freight line along the North Shore, you’d have to bury it at least from the Narrows to past Port Richmond … which is OK, since if you want to reactivate the North Shore line anyway and allow waterfront access, you’re going to have to bury the line under Richmond Terrace at least from the Ballpark to Clove Road, since there’s no place else to put it in that area. (Southwest of Clove, you would probably still need to do a complete rebuild of the old B&O infrastructure. But it is possible the passenger rail line could be elevated or surface run if it’s light rail, while the ROW itself could still be used to bury a freight tunnel to Howalnd Hook beneath the passenger line.)

Edward November 19, 2010 - 2:00 pm

Regarding NIMBY’s going batshit over surface-level freight rail, I’d have to say they’d have a point. If you’ve ever lived next to freight trains running past your house at night, you’d know that they are noisy as hell, especially in densely populated areas like NYC. Tunneling under Richmond Terrace would be prohibitively expensive since, unlike Manhattan and most parts of the other boros, Staten Island is very sandy and extremely hard to tunnel under (as opposed to bedrock, which is easier to cut thru and not have to constantly reshovel). Cut-n-cover wouldn’t work because you’d have to basically shut down Richmond Terrace for a few years and there’s not viable alternate running parallel to it.

Since manufacturing on SI (and NYC as a whole) is all but dead, a freight line along Richmond Terrace is not needed. But if SI’s North Shore is to see any revitilization, a busway or light rail would be the best alternate to heavy rail.

John November 19, 2010 - 2:54 pm

You could woodboard it, the way the city did with their past cut-and-cover projects up through the Sixth Avenue extension to the 63rd Street tunnel in the 1960s (and given the usual condition of Richmond Terrace, a street made of wood might actually be an improvement in some spots over what’s currently there).

A freight line around the edge of S.I. only matters if you’re talking about subway service to the borough, because the freight tunnel can bring in lots of special interests outside of the borough who could potentially make lots of money if the line was built. But if you’re dealing with just a stand-alone North Shore passenger line with no heavy rail to Brooklyn, light rail or bus seems the way to go based on the limited number of riders the line can get because it’s abutting the shoreline.

Edward November 19, 2010 - 2:57 pm


Alon Levy November 19, 2010 - 5:28 pm

John, there’s zero advantage to having LRT over subway cars. Zero. The infrastructure costs are the same here, since it’s an existing at-grade line. All else being equal the rolling stock cost difference is trivial; in fact things are not equal, and NYCT’s large subway car orders give it an advantage when ordering more subway cars, which disappears if it wants LRVs.

John November 19, 2010 - 9:21 pm

The only real advantage LRVs have over heavy rail is it does allow you to do street/alley running of the line once you get west/south of Port Richmond Avenue, due to the lack of population density in those areas of Staten Island. That potentially could allow for multiple terminals for the line at its western/southern end where the cost to build them wouldn’t be prohibitive. Heavy rail has to have grade separations, meaning the cost would all but mandate a single terminal for the line.

Bolwerk November 20, 2010 - 11:20 am

Unless this is connecting into Manhattan (fat chance, given Bloomberg’s preference for connecting the 7 to Secaucus over connecting the 1 to SI), there would be a certain logic to paying NJT to operate LRT on the line from existing HBLR service.

And John has a point about street running. And I, for one, think it’s time we start getting a LRT system working in NYC. It shouldn’t be confined to SI, though it certainly is an excellent place to start.

ajedrez November 19, 2010 - 8:35 pm

The North Shore Rail Line would carry anywhere from 11,000-15,000 passengers daily, under current conditions (over a 5 mile distance). The Main Line carries about 14,000 riders daily (over a 14-mile distance). The North Shore Line actually merits heavy rail cars more than the Main Line because of the higher concentration of passengers.

If you want a comparison to other subway lines, the M from Metropolitan Avenue to Broadway gets about 14,000 riders daily (maybe a bit more now that it is connected to the Sixth Avenue Line), and the whole line in the Rockaways gets about 10,000 riders daily. Of course, there are plenty of corridors that can use a subway line more, but a comparison to the rest of the subway system shows that it is on par with some existing services.

ajedrez November 19, 2010 - 8:36 pm

This was directed at John, not Alon Levy.

NorthShorer November 19, 2010 - 11:57 pm

The last I checked, the buses on Staten Island are crowded. Check out St. George around the PM rush hour and if you want to take it a step further, ride the buses on a daily basis as a Staten Island resident and you’ll fully understand why the North Shore line is necessary.

ant6n November 19, 2010 - 2:45 pm

Why not. One could extend the SIR to the Newark line, upgrade it to a railroad status and run it right into Penn Station. Or maybe not.

It would probably make more sense to connect the SIR to the HudsonBergen line – could the Southern portion of that light rail be upgraded to SIR standards? And maybe connected to PATH? that way the SIR could become a PATH extension. Together with the 7 line into New Jersey, this could create interesting opportunities to extend the city to the west and south.

Edward November 19, 2010 - 2:55 pm

Sounds good on paper, but the PATH, Light Rail, and SI Railway all have very different equipment and clearances. The PATH is built to basically IRT standards, while the HBLR has much taller, overhead “trolley” type cars. The SI Railway is a different beast altogether, akin to BMT/IND lines, with much heavier and longer rail cars.

On top of this, the 80+ year old Bayonne Bridge is due to be replaced sometime, but the PA is dragging it’s heels on exactly how to replace it (new bridge? raise the old bridge? tunnel?). It’ll be a good 20 years before any of this comes to fruition, and even then the aforementioned differences in the three modes of transit make it impossible to have a one-seat rail option from SI to Manhattan via NJ.

ant6n November 19, 2010 - 5:15 pm

Well, HBLR and SIR are overground, so different gauge is not such a big issue. Bringing a light rail up to subway standards and connecting to PATH is a much more expensive proposition – but it would still be much cheaper than a tunnel from SI to Manhatten. It seems the southern section of the HBLR runs on a former rail right of way with few grade crossings, which might make things simpler.

The biggest obstacle is that NJT and MTA are different agencies operating in different states, with not many incentives to work together. Oh also, there’s no monies.

Bolwerk November 20, 2010 - 11:22 am

If this North Shore rail line is built to BMT or IRT standards, it would make sense to do it with an eye towards connecting it to Newark Airport and the Second Avenue Subway or 1 Train. Now that there’s official sanction for border crossing, I say let’s go all out!

Alon Levy November 19, 2010 - 5:30 pm

SIR was built to a mainline loading gauge. Restoring mainline gauge requires shaving back platforms and nothing else.

Edward November 20, 2010 - 11:08 pm

Actually, there is a bypass that allows SIR trains to go past the ferry and not have to pull into St. George. The “baseball special” train did this for a few years, using the new trackage built for trains to depart SI Yankee Stadium en route to Tottenville after night games. Budget cuts forced the MTA to discontinue this train, but the track is still there. Look for it (it hugs the retaining wall along Richmond Terrace and curves south to connect with SIR mainline).

Frank B November 19, 2010 - 3:06 pm


In terms of subway service, the quality and amount of service goes in this order, based on population and number of lines and stations covering area:

Manhattan, Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens, Staten Island.

Manhattan has 147 Stations
Brookyn has 170 Stations
The Bronx has 70 Stations
Queens has 81 Stations

Staten Island has 23.

Unlike the other boroughs, this is not through-routing into Manhattan: You still must transfer to the ferry.

Enough said. Give them a damn second subway line!

Edward November 19, 2010 - 3:09 pm

Amen Frank.

Frank B November 19, 2010 - 3:22 pm

Amen Ed.

ant6n November 19, 2010 - 4:21 pm

Isn’t it basically an extension of the existing line?

Alon Levy November 19, 2010 - 5:31 pm

No – the two lines would both go into the ferry terminal. There’s no way to run trains from one line to the other without skipping the terminal.

Edward November 20, 2010 - 11:10 pm

Actually, there is a bypass that allows SIR trains to go past the ferry and not have to pull into St. George. The “baseball special” train did this for a few years, using the new trackage built for trains to depart SI Yankee Stadium en route to Tottenville after night games. Budget cuts forced the MTA to discontinue this train, but the track is still there. Look for it (it hugs the retaining wall along Richmond Terrace and curves south to connect with SIR mainline).

Alon Levy November 21, 2010 - 1:28 am

I know there’s a bypass. But to use it would be pointless, because it skips the dominant destination. If the demand is very high and there’s ample commercial development near stations in northeastern SI that aren’t St. George, then it will make sense to have some through-running local trains. But we’re talking long-term; short-term, building frequency to St. George is the most important.

Henry November 19, 2010 - 5:44 pm

So you want NYC to fund a train to the ferry, which would offer (at best) a ten or twenty minute reduction in time (perfectly achievable with a busway), have low ridership expectations, and require rebuilding a rail line that has been rotting away for fifty years?
Please. BRT could do just fine here.

NorthShorer November 20, 2010 - 12:08 am

I’ve waited up to 30-45 minutes for the local buses, when they should be running every 15-20 minutes and when they do show up, they’re overcrowded (and sometimes past the stop). Where are you getting this notion from that no one would ride this line?

ajedrez November 20, 2010 - 4:06 pm

That does happen in the other boroughs as well, but I do agree that there would be plenty of demand for the line. Like I said, the North Shore Line would have similar as the current SIR line, so if it works on the other side of SI, it should work here on the North Shore.

Bolwerk November 21, 2010 - 12:08 pm

What makes you think BRT would be cheaper? Once you start talking about dedicated ROWs, BRT loses the one advantage it might have had in cost-effectiveness.

Henry November 19, 2010 - 5:38 pm

I really don’t see what’s the point of taking a train to the ferry.
Use BRT. It’s cheaper and probably more suited for ridership levels.
And for all this stuff about how the North Shore should be linked to HBLR: You could route the buses through Bayonne, run them express to the PATH, and on the other end, route the buses PAST St. George through the Verrazano to the nearest subway station. It’s much more cost effective, and probably more useful.

Alon Levy November 19, 2010 - 6:20 pm

BRT is cheaper when you can implement it on-street; on a new ROW it’s not cheaper and leads to higher operating costs. The two real-world cases of converting a rail ROW to BRT have not gone well: in Miami the line underperformed so much it got turned into a highway, and in LA it’s facing capacity problems despite having less ridership than any of the local rail lines.

SEAN November 19, 2010 - 7:51 pm


In your post above are you talking about the South Miami Busway? That was contrivercial from the beginning.

In LA the busway has had issues with pavement conditions in adition to having the busses being forced to run in mixed traffic in & around the Warner Center area causing delays.

Alon Levy November 20, 2010 - 12:10 am

The problems aren’t just in the Warner Center area. They’re all over – the signal priority isn’t working too well, and the buses can’t run more frequently than every 3 minutes without bunching.

NorthShorer November 20, 2010 - 12:04 am

If anything, the MTA has the Select Bus Service program going, so they could implement a version of that here on the North Shore, replacing the S90 & S96.

ajedrez November 20, 2010 - 4:08 pm

That would be good in the short term, but we need a long term solution for improving transit.

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