Home Queens Rail advocates object to QueensWay trail

Rail advocates object to QueensWay trail

by Benjamin Kabak

A schematic shows the Rockaway Beach Branch service from 1955 until it was shuttered in 1960. (Courtesy of Railfan.net)

As rails-to-trails proponents move forward with a plan to convert part of the Rockaway Branch Line into a park, Queens’ transit advocates are none too pleased with the idea. As The Daily News reports today, those who want to see better rail access in Queens are speaking out against the so-called QueensWay park.

Lisa Colangelo has more:

“Certainly a quick trip to JFK Airport from the core of the city is something people have talked about from Year One,” said George Haikalis, a civil engineer who heads the Institute for Rational Mobility, a nonprofit umbrella group for transit advocates. “Nobody in the rest of the world would be so dumb as to let a valuable asset like that sit there.”

…Assemblyman Philip Goldfeder, who represents the Rockaways, jumped into the fray on Tuesday saying he opposed the creation of a park. “I believe southern Queens and Rockaway would be better served if this forgotten track once again fulfilled its original purpose as a railroad,” Goldfeder wrote in an open letter. “Those same communities that are pushing this proposal are privileged with commutes of 30 minutes or less to midtown Manhattan.”

Andrea Crawford, the chairwoman of Community Board 9 who also is a member of Friends of the QueensWay, said a park would enhance the neighborhoods and prevent future over-development. “No one disagrees that the Rockaways are underserved by public transportation,” she said. “But to say this particular right of way could be a viable rail of some sort does not have a basis in reality.” Aside from deteriorated tracks and infrastructure, the line runs close to schools and homes that did not exist when it was first constructed, she said.

This he said/she said story from the News encapsulates the debate over rails-to-trails perfectly. As I first said when I wrote about the QueensWay plans in early December, once the rail right-of-way is converted to a park, the land is never returned to its original use as a piece of the transportation network. On the other hand, the ROW has sat unused for six decades, and despite numerous calls for a reactivation, nothing has ever materialized even as the city’s needs have become glaringly obvious.

If QueensWay becomes a reality — and it still has a way to go — New York City will not be irreparably harmed. Restoring rail service to the Rockaway Branch Line is probably a pipe dream, but it says a lot that a rails-to-trails park can gain more community support than a potentially important train line would. Our urban development priorities are not in the right place.

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Christopher January 4, 2012 - 4:47 pm

Why does it still have to be either/or? Rails and trails projects are well on their way? Even the Rails to Trails Conservancy offers information on Rails with Trails. The planning that is happening for purple line in DC will be rails with trails and I think this will be something we hear a lot more about. NY should lead not follow here.

John-2 January 4, 2012 - 4:49 pm

By at least presenting the alternative option to return the ROW to its original use, supporters prevent the trail concept from being viewed as the only option for the land, since it’s not like the High Line, in that the manufacturing/distribution points south of 30th Street it was meant to serve when built in the 1930s were gone. The Rockaway line was always meant to serve passenger rail, and the need is still there or greater than it was 50 years ago, especially when the JFK option is thrown into the mix (and as Manhattan-centric as it may seem, that is the tactic backers of restoring the rail line — or at least keeping that option open — should take. The people with the power to block the park proposal don’t give a damn if a rail route might shorten the commute for residents of south Queens to Manhattan, but would look at a plan that might make their trips to and from the airport easier. The more that benefit is presented to the public, the less likely you’ll see support to abandon it entirely in favor of a narrow strip of parkland).

Bolwerk January 4, 2012 - 4:49 pm

Any chance of seeing a map of how this would tie into the wider transportation system?

People like Andrea Crawford kind of piss me off. If those homes and schools “did not exist when it was first constructed,” then the people buying those homes and sending their kids to those schools* really should have been obliged to consider there was an abandoned rail line near their homes that could some day become an active rail line. Not that reactivation would do much other than improve commute times and property values, but whatever.

Chris January 5, 2012 - 2:15 pm

Personally I’d be more pissed off about the voters, who elect legislators, who write laws to give Andrea Crawford a forum for spouting off about what other people can do with land they own. Look at the enemy; it is us.

Bolwerk January 5, 2012 - 8:36 pm

No, I disagree, she should have the same forum all citizens should have. I just wish others were motivated to use it. Anyone has to know that the vast majority of neighborhood residents there would benefit from reactivating that line. The only real question should be whether it’s worth everyone else’s money.

The antidote for the likes of Andrea Crawford should be social. When they open their yaps and say something stupid, others should laugh or roll their eyes or groan. Instead her self-righteous narcissism is taken to represent considered opinion and local preference.

Chris January 6, 2012 - 1:08 am

But she doesn’t have the same forum, she’s chair of the Community Board – a government-endorsed, taxpayer-supported unique forum. You can’t be surprised that people take her view as local preference when she’s on top of an organization whose supposed purpose is expressing local opinion, even if she basically arrived there via random patronage totally unrelated to whether she actually represents or knows anything about her alleged constituents.

You could either get rid of the community boards or make them actually representative by turning them into an elected position. But to have supposed local representation appointed by a central authority produces mostly ludicrous results, of which Ms. Crawford is one example.

Bolwerk January 6, 2012 - 2:24 pm

Yeah, I hear that. Still, even though I think there are really big problems with community boards, I’m not sure democracy in theory is one of them. Just about anybody can participate, and in the end the people who get appointments are the people who participate.

That said, participating is based on having both the desire and the time to participate. I think that probably draws the same types of priggish NIMBY homebodies the Iowa caucuses attract.

Eugene Falik October 14, 2015 - 8:37 pm Reply
digamma January 4, 2012 - 4:58 pm

What route do people envision that would provide a route to JFK? Would you change from the LIRR to the A at Rockaway Boulevard? How would it be better than taking the existing main line to Jamaica?

pea-jay January 4, 2012 - 11:46 pm

You wouldn’t. My thought is that it allows LIRR to cut across Queens to the airport grounds (following along the A for a bit) and then snake into the airport itself using a mix of low slung aerial structures and cut and cover tunnels. This way service could be extended right under one of the terminals. Why? Then you could run express service (and I mean NO stops) direct to PENN. If they were able to isolate a platform at Penn then, automatic fare collection could be used, saving immensely on labor. Think of it as express premium train-to-plain service (charge like $20 or $25 a fare) for a Midtown to JFK ride that would be just 20+ minutes in length and would require little or no Airtrain use (depending on if the flight was in the terminal with the new rail link or not).

Do this and you have three great ways to JFK. A or E/J/Z to airtrain for budget minded subway riders. AirTrain to LIRR Jamaica for L.I. bound travelers. ExpressAirTrain Service to Midtown who want to get there fast and easily.

Justin Samuels January 5, 2012 - 12:03 am

There is no reason why the Airtrain that goes to Jamaica cannot be merged with the LIRR, and you could have a direct one seat train ride from Penn Station to JFK.

Had the Port Authority only built an Airtrain to Howard Beach, then yes, they would need to connect it to the Rockaway line and then open up the Rockaway Beach LIRR to have direct access to Penn Station.

But the thing is, the Rockaway Beach LIRR is not needed for direct access to JFK. I have no problem if they were to use it for that, but realistically, its not that necessary, since the Airtrain could have upgrades and track connections at Jamaica allowing trains to go directly to JFK.

And to be completely honest, a lot of people just take a taxi, car service, or have someone drive them to the airport.

A greater priority is completion of the full length second avenue subway, and completion of the LIRR to grand central.

Ed January 5, 2012 - 8:52 am

No it not happen at all

Miles Bader January 6, 2012 - 8:56 pm

There is no reason why the Airtrain that goes to Jamaica cannot be merged with the LIRR, and you could have a direct one seat train ride from Penn Station to JFK.

Isn’t one of the usual reasons given that Airtrain uses incompatible—and proprietary—technology, Bombardier’s “Advanced Rapid Transit” linear induction motor system?

It seems unlikely that they’d adopt Bombardier’s system for other lines, and it would probably be very expensive to replace the Airtrain infrastructure with something more conventional.

Bolwerk January 7, 2012 - 7:56 am

In the early 2000s, they figured it would be possible to do a hybrid system to bring AirTrain to the WTC by way of either subway or LIRR tunnels. It was studied, tabled, and finally outright abandoned, though probably only officially under Spitzer (after 2006). I think this hybrid would have required linear induction on the AirTrain ROW and third rail power elsewhere, but don’t quote me on that.

Bolwerk January 7, 2012 - 7:59 am

And to be completely honest, a lot of people just take a taxi, car service, or have someone drive them to the airport.

A lot of people don’t or can’t. And traffic congestion both related to and unrelated to the airport makes that kind of impractical as the only option anyway.

The lack of a proper rail option is simply absurd.

Fern January 4, 2012 - 5:57 pm

Although I have often bemoaned the fact that we seem to be the only major city in the world without a good transport system from the airport to the center of the city, nothing they have come up with seems to work well. Remember the “Train to the Plane” otherwise known as the “JFK Express”? Now we have that ‘light rail” that no one seems to use. Now, all of a sudden, these decrepit rails are being considered for yet another attempt to go from Manhattan to JFK? Another train to a bus? Forget it! If they can’t come up with a way for the subway to go straight into JFK and LaGuardia, we will never measure up to the Europeans, and keep embarrassing ourselves. After sitting idle for 60 years, just make it a useful park.

Justin Samuels January 5, 2012 - 12:10 am

They proposed extending the N train to LaGuardia when Giuliani was mayor. This wasn’t done because of neighborhood opposition. There have been proposals on linking the Airtrain to the LIRR at Jamaica and running trains directly to Penn Station that way.

Kai B January 5, 2012 - 4:03 pm

The AirTrain-LIRR or AirTrain-subway works just fine and I see plenty of tourists and business people (suits and all) use it every time I fly through JFK.

JFK is a spread out airport. It is perfectly acceptable to take a one seat ride to a central distributor and then take a people mover to the correct terminal, which, at JFK are pretty small.

At other airports you might have a one-seat ride to the one large “terminal” but then have to take people movers after security to get to your gate.

bob January 4, 2012 - 9:38 pm

Besides JFK, the rail ties into Gov. Cuomo’s Aqueduct plans (biggest convention center in country will need a better connection than the A train). I’m undecided about rails vs. trails, I loved the trails idea back in ’06-’07. I think it would be a great boon to the communities. that said, more rails is a boon as well.

Jerrold January 4, 2012 - 11:29 pm

Somewhat off-topic, but where else can I put this message today?

When it comes to the #7 Line extension, the 10th Ave. station that should have been built, was NOT built. Instead priority was given to building a station to serve the Javits Center. But now, all of the sudden, they’re talking about getting rid of the Javits Center altogether, and replacing it with a huge new convention center in Queens?

bob January 5, 2012 - 7:06 pm

The driving force for that station wasn’t the Javits, which has been there quite a while, but the Mayor’s plans for Hudson Yards development.

Tsuyoshi January 5, 2012 - 1:06 am

It’s sort of depressing, but more rail service in that area will never happen. It has relatively low density, and the last attempt to provide service was killed by noise complaints. The decision of whether or not to provide transit on that line was made when all of the single family homes were built next to it.

And I don’t really understand why JFK needs better transit service at all, to be honest. It’s already more than adequate for a trip that relatively few people make very often.

Bustadreamz January 5, 2012 - 4:28 pm

The ridership on the Airtrain is staggering considering it’s so inconvenient. I think you need to reconsider what you said.

Year Passengers per year
2004 2,606,422
2005 3,411,762
2006 3,937,041
2007 4,393,449
2008 5,058,711
2009 5,301,801


bob January 5, 2012 - 7:14 pm

Note how ridership kept rising 2007-2009, even as the economy trended down.

I think the obvious conclusion is that it is not inconvenient at all. It certainly has been a great boon for me. Quite a few of those “one seat rides” leave you with a very long walk at the airport. Airtrain, except for Terminals 2 & 3, is pretty good in that regard. Eventually those will be rebuilt.

Jason B. January 5, 2012 - 3:13 am

I go back and forth as some here have done. The Rockaway Line could serve two purposes; either a reactivation of LIRR service, or an extension of the Queens Boulevard IND line. Without increased trunk capacity though, the IND line might not be feasible or beneficial (F super-express, again, anyone?) since QB is already pretty full and it would only divert traffic away from QB. On the other hand, a LIRR reactivation, at least for the purposes of JFK, doesn’t make much sense if it only bring people to Howard Beach. You might as well take the LIRR as is to Jamaica.

The only difference is, as if pea-jay says, if the LIRR goes into JFK itself. If I remember correctly, the AirTrain is not light rail, but heavy rail, designed for future incorporation directly into subway/commuter rail lines. I can’t find the reference though. Clarity anyone? If this could happen, when LIRR goes to both GC and Penn, it truly would be a better access system.

Ed January 5, 2012 - 8:50 am

super exp will fail badly

Jason B. January 5, 2012 - 10:07 am

Yeah I don’t think it is appropriate for a situation like this… I was thinking more of the only way to possibly get trains out to that line via IND without increasing QB traffic.

Bolwerk January 7, 2012 - 10:54 am

AFAICT, the distinction between light rail and heavy rail is practically just the platform height. FRA equipment is usually called “heavy rail,” but equipment on services like NYCTA trains gets called that too if it’s high-platform. Nothing is technically infeasible about doing this with a high-floor train, but the FRA seems to make it illegal without a grandfather waiver.

Here is a press release from 2004 where they talked about AirTrain to WTC service by converting the Atlantic Avenue branch of the LIRR to linear induction and then possibly using subway tunnels to get the services to the WTC. I can’t (immediately) find a link, but IIRC there was talk of hybrid vehicles before 2004 that could use LIRR ROWs.

Al D January 5, 2012 - 10:27 am

in light of the now announced convention center, it would be foolhardy to turn this into a homeless encampment, teen necking spot, drug dealing path, etc. best to reactivate as a rail line, lirr, subway, other(?) that should be integrated into existing infrasturcture (i.e. no more AirTrain extensions)

AlexB January 5, 2012 - 10:44 am

It’s a bit ironic that the aqueduct announcement and the queens way thing are posted in the same day. Imagine a one seat ride from JFK to Penn (or grand central via the new east side access) that takes no more than 25 minutes and includes a stop at one of the biggest convention centers in the US. It actually seems like a great idea if it’s done all together. Maybe also extend the A to Jamaica and run a subway from Jamaica to the Rockaways so you can connect the aqueduct developments to the LIRR and downtown Jamaica.

David Krulewitch January 5, 2012 - 11:42 am

I spoke with the Daily News reporter about this article. If you didn’t get to see my paper on this topic, I’d recommend you checking this out:

Rockaway Beach Reactivation Study

Hopefully some better service can come because of the convention center and hotel. R service via the Rockaway Beach Branch or an LIRR service via the Rockaway Beach Branch and turning the Rockaway bound A train into LIRR would also make sense.

pete January 5, 2012 - 1:23 pm

A rail trail is better than selling it off for condos as a gimmick fix for this years budget.

Bruce M January 5, 2012 - 6:59 pm

I would hazard to guess that linking to the LIRR would provide the best option since there is a lot more capacity on that route into Penn Station vs. the Queens Blvd. IND. Being an express train, it will cost more that the subway, but that option will still exist for those on a tighter budget and time on their hands. Moreover, it would probably be easier and less costly to connect to the LIRR since that once existed already. The subway line is another block or two away.

I also wonder; can you kill two birds with one stone? Since this ROW has been vacant for years, and would require substantial construction to lay new tracks and rebuild bridges, just how much more costly would it be to simply dig a trench along some of the route, create an underground railway, cover it over, and put the park on top? It couldn’t possibly be as difficult to do cut-and-cover here vs. Manhattan. Wouldn’t this make everybody happy?

Ron Aryel January 6, 2012 - 7:49 am

The state of the Right of Way on the Rockaway Branch is such that it would require a billion dollars to move encroachers out of the way and redevelop it for a train. In some places it is s narrow, and new housing so close, that MTA would have to double-stack the tracks (ie northbound track above southbound track or vice-versa). The political power of residents who would oppose the train probably cannot be surmounted. That’s in part why AirTrain uses the Van Wyck median – opposition outside of a few airline-funded stooges was minimal,

I support the creation of a park, because that really would benefit southeastern Queens.
Last comment: Please don’t characterize George Haikalis as an umbrella for anything. He’s a one-man band who, over the years, has proved so closed-minded and delusional that he has burned bridges with anyone who’d want to work with him. His strident approach has been an obstacle to transit development. I respect his right to voice his opinions and would never discourage him from speaking out, but transit projects get done despite him, not with his help.

Carl Perrera January 6, 2012 - 2:38 pm

I’m not sure if it would take a billion dollrs to restore the entire line but if the private Aqueduct casino developer decides to foot the bill who cares about a price tag. I’m sure if a compatible vehicle similar to the size of the AIRTRAIN but that could operate on subway or LIRR were used space would not be an issue at narrow segments along the line as well as no noise and vibrations.

rgr January 6, 2012 - 6:43 pm

Andrea Crawford, lives in kew gardens she has would have a quick commute so she does not care. The park would be a nice thing for her to put in her legacy. The thing is the line is what made ozone park and richmond hill a place for weathlier people to move to because the ease to the city. after the fire look what happen, the neoghbor has never rinsen back to what it was. The beautiful unique homes are few and far between. People need to pave over the front lawns because they all need to cars because they all need to drive to work. The bus along woodhaven are packed to the gills, and the car there are awful. a simple train could remove more then 50% of the cars. Look at the traffic on park lane south and metro. Think it will only get worse.


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