Home Queens Making the case for the Rockaway Beach Branch

Making the case for the Rockaway Beach Branch

by Benjamin Kabak

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

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.

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John-2 May 7, 2012 - 12:33 am

The Rockaway Branch died six years before the Rockefeller state agency came into being, so while there are a lot of bad transit decisions you can pin on the MTA (like the Myrtle and Third Ave. el shutdowns), they’re in the clear on this one.

That said, the idea of reviving the LIRR on the line past, at best, Howard Beach isn’t going to happen because of the FRA regulations that wouldn’t permit passenger rail and subway cars to operate together. There’s enough space on the line from Liberty to Howard Beach to run two subway and two LIRR tracks, similar to how the the WMATA Red Line and MARTA operate in Montgomery County, but the more viable option would be to tie the line into the IND Queens Blvd. local tracks east of the 63rd Drive station.

You would only lose the final two stops on Queens Blvd. for one of the two local services, and part of the passenger load that currently goes to 67th or 71st-Continental might actually be closer to a new stop at Metropolitan Ave. east of Woodhaven (and the length of the route wouldn’t have to be a major problem, since once the Q moves over to Second Ave. the MTA will have to revive the W or cut back on Astoria service. Run the R with the N to Astoria and run the revived W from Whitehall along Queens Blvd. to the Woodhaven branch and you’d avoid the problem of having an excessively long local route as would be the case with the R or M along the Rockaway Branch).

Bolwerk May 7, 2012 - 1:23 am

There is no reason anything but subway cars should operate on that route, at least at first. It would also be perfectly acceptable to reactivate it and just let it be a transfer to Queens Boulevard. Let a future generation build the capacity to make it a one-seat ride beyond its current termini.

Christopher A. May 7, 2012 - 10:44 am

Bolwerk –

I’d love to see it connect to either Forest Hills or Kew Gardens somehow. But then, I’d like to see it extended to reach the Flushing line at the Baseball park, making it possible to reach the World’s Fair park directly via mass transit from something other than the 7 line.

Someone noted the possibility of connecting to Queens College. That would be a non-starter, as one wouldn’t want to run the line along a new elevated spur. But, it would make sense to repurpose a bus line to connect at Jewel Avenue, bring people to QC….

John of the Bronx May 7, 2012 - 11:50 am

For Chris A.
No one to my knowledge is suggesting running a subway to Queens College. This is an ideal place for Select or Limited buses to complement a subway.

If the RBB subway terminates at Rego Park/63rd Drive, Select or Limited bus routes can be established to take riders to LaGuardia, CitiField, Queens College/Flushing. It would be a one transfer, one fare bargain.

You could extend the RBB to LaGuardia but in the distant future or include it in the Queens Super Express by-pass if that project is ever revived. Again, in the distant future.

John of the Bronx May 7, 2012 - 11:41 am

For Bolwerk

I agree with you that the RBB can terminate at Rego Park/63rd Drive and offer a transfer to the M&R subways similar to the IRT-F Train transfer at 59th St. The walk to Queens Blvd. is only 5 minutes at a very moderate pace.
There is space on the LIRR property to build a dual station for the RBB subway and the LIRR for transfers in both directions.
One would also be able to transfer from the trains to Limited or Select Buses to LaGuardia & Citifield (up Junction Blvd.) and to Queens College (Junction Blvd. & LIE). It would be a one transfer/one fare bargain and would pull Queens together.
There would be little if any construction in the community, 63rd Drive is a commercial strip and the cost savings huge.

Anon256 May 7, 2012 - 9:40 pm

It doesn’t reach Queens Blvd; getting it there would require a new tunnel.

There is more than enough capacity for a one-seat ride to Penn Station via the LIRR (especially after ESA opens). As noted, there are four tracks out to Howard beach so both LIRR and subway trains could run that far (providing good service to JFK and the convention centre if that happens), though some reconstruction of stations would be required.

Beyond Howard Beach it would probably need to be one or the other. Since stations in the Rockaways currently have some of the lowest ridership numbers and longest travel times in the system, I think it might be best to convert the Rockaway lines back to LIRR service, providing them much faster rides to Manhattan with frequency and capacity better-suited to demand.

Bolwerk May 7, 2012 - 11:46 pm

It gets within a few blocks of QB. And while I could see some logic in it going to GCT, I don’t see much sense in sending it to Penn.

Alex C May 8, 2012 - 12:19 am

That tunnel already exists. It goes from the local tracks at Rego Park to nearly the LIRR ROW; was originally built by the IND.

Bolwerk May 8, 2012 - 10:38 am

To terminate at Queens Blvd, it would probably need to be routed into a separate tunnel under an existing station. I would imagine use of Rego Park would be suitable for through traffic only.

Stu Sutcliffe May 8, 2012 - 3:09 pm

Define “nearly the LIRR ROW.” It’s not as close as you think, and you’d have to tunnel through a well-populated area to get there.

Beyond that, does the Queens Boulevard line have the capacity to handle the additional riders? The board of Transportation didn’t think so – in the 1940s. The population of Central, Eastern and Southeast Queens has grown since then.

petey May 8, 2012 - 11:30 am

“I think it might be best to convert the Rockaway lines back to LIRR service, providing them much faster rides to Manhattan with frequency and capacity better-suited to demand.”

but the LIRR is a more expensive ticket, perhaps beyond some people’s reach?

Bolwerk May 8, 2012 - 1:07 pm

Probably not too expensive for the gentry class that is apparently the only group worthy of new rail transit.

Anon256 May 8, 2012 - 1:52 pm

Subsidising fares would be a lot cheaper than building even fairly small amounts of new infrastructure. LIRR fares within the city need to be lowered and integrated with Metrocard anyway – it makes no sense that city residents in Bayside or Laurelton pay so much more to get into Manhattan than residents in the Rockaways when the sort of service the Rockaways get (more frequent, across a long difficult-to-maintain bridge, not on the way to any other markets) is significantly more expensive per capita to provide.

Organisation before electronics before concrete!

Alon Levy May 9, 2012 - 2:44 am

More to the point, it makes no sense for city residents in Flushing to pay more for LIRR service to Penn Station than for 7 service to Grand Central and Times Square, or for city residents in Bayside to pay more for LIRR service than for bus-to-subway.

Andre May 9, 2012 - 6:35 pm

Anon – I agree “City Ticket” on the Metro North and LIRR should operate at all times. I’m not sure why they don’t. It is as you said the cheapest option to ease overcrowding. It should be more expensive than a subway ride (because it’s faster and roomier) but less than what suburban commuters pay (shorter distance). I think ppl would be willing to pay.

John of the Bronx May 7, 2012 - 11:33 am

For John-2:

If you have an opportunity, go to the area and you will see the problem with connecting to the Queens Blvd. line. The Rockaway line turns west into the LIRR between 64th & 65th Roads. The IND bellmouths are under 66th Ave. which is to the East of the RBB turnoff. You would need drop the RBB under the LIRR mainline, turn it east and then turn it north–reminiscent of the infamous J curve at Crescent St.

You could build a subway station under the LIRR for a transfer but the area adjacent to the LIRR tracks may be too narrow for a commuter rail platform.
It’s also a very residential neighborhood.
The costs of the project would rise substantially. (See my reply to Bolwerk)

John-2 May 7, 2012 - 12:12 pm

My guess is due to the proximity of the Rockaway Branch’s connection to the LIRR main line and the western end of Forest Hills (influential NIMBY Central in Queens), any line might end up having to be trenched or completely buried along the ROW from the mainline split at least to near Metropolitan Avenue to assuage the people there who have clout at City Hall or in Albany.

That would add additional cost onto the project, of course, but the mitigating circumstance would be the line could be spurred off the IND bellmouths and wouldn’t necessarily have to follow the original Rockaway Branch’s ROW for the first 1,000-to-3,000 feet, which would avoid a Crescent Street-like curve for the line (and using the existing bellmouths wouldn’t be etched in stone — the project could be tied into converting Woodhaven Blvd to an express stop — something that would be beneficial irregardless of the Rockaway Branch reactivation. With that, new bellmouths or a Rockaway diversion between the local and express tracks could be built in the area between Woodhaven and 63rd Drive).

Alex C May 8, 2012 - 12:22 am

The main problem is the apartment building on the cul de sac where Thornton Pl and Burns St meet. Any connection to the 66 Ave bellmouths would have to go underneath that building. Otherwise, the connection is straight forward and the curve isn’t all that bad.

Alex C May 7, 2012 - 1:11 am

In reviving this branch there is also the issue of future NIMBY’s who have encroached onto the ROW, expanding their back yards onto it. Looking at Google Maps, there is also a huge school-bus lot on it between Atlantic Ave and 97 Ave.

Christopher A. May 7, 2012 - 10:39 am

Did the people pay for the land? No. If the state/city were to condemn the ROW, there wouldn’t be much that could be done – railroad tracks (albeit unusable in current state) are still in place, indicating that the line may be reused at some point…. (Can someone tell me whether the line was officially abandoned, or just unused – that makes a lot of difference in RR ROW law….)

al May 7, 2012 - 1:05 pm

The bus company might be leasing the space from the city or MTA. The other parking lots might not.

Kevin C May 7, 2012 - 1:23 am

For those who need maps to be able to picture what’s being discussed, I recommend David Krulewitch’s paper

petey May 7, 2012 - 10:29 am

thanks for that link

Tim May 7, 2012 - 6:07 pm


RC April 17, 2017 - 1:01 pm

OASIS maps is also good –

Corey Best May 7, 2012 - 1:30 am

If you 4 track the Rockaway line from Ozone Park to Rockaway Beach you can run LIRR trains in the center and Subway on the Outer tracks. The Only stops the LIRR would make would be Howard Beach and Rockaway Beach where it would terminate. The only issue here is the Jamaica Bay Bridges would have to be replaced which drives up the cost. But the Long Term Benefits outweigh the cost. As for the rest of the ROW there seems to be enough room for to expand to 4 tracks. There should also be a connection to Atlantic Branch which is possible due to the MTA owning that ROW aswell…

Spendmore Wastemore May 7, 2012 - 11:21 am

That sounds like it makes sense, but would having 2 services cost more? Or might it be less, by having, say, 3 subway and 3 LIRR trains each per hour. The LIRR run with 2 stops would take but five minutes, or less.

Anon256 May 8, 2012 - 3:16 pm

The stations between Broad Channel and Rockaway Park are amongst the lowest-ridership in the system. In fact, these five stations *combined* have less ridership than all but one of the stations in Manhattan. They barely merit one rail service, let alone two. The potential for growth is small because the Rockaway peninsula is not very wide and it doesn’t make sense to make it very dense. Any dual service should end at Howard Beach, providing good service to the airport without the massive operational and capital costs of continuing across the bay.

Michael May 7, 2012 - 2:02 am

The FRA limitations on LIRR and Subways sharing tracks are old regulations for providing safety using old technology. These dated regulations are political instruments and not laws of nature.

The safety issues can also be addressed through technology, and the FRA has shown it is willing to provide exceptions to the rules if other safeguards are provided. The FRA has already granted Caltrain in the SF bay area an waiver to allow lighter european style EMU’s on its shared right of way once the line is electrified.

New, needed transit solutions shouldn’t be limited by dated regulations when newer, cheaper and safer technologies exist. If the technology exists to allow LIRR and NYC subway to share tracks safely, an old dated law should be the last thing preventing it from happening.

Christopher A. May 7, 2012 - 10:52 am

Michael –

There are other examples of Mass Transit lines sharing trackage with Railroads – in one case, I remember light rail being run during the day, while freight moves on the line late at night. I’d bet that FRA would grant an exemption or an accommodation if the right safety procedures were put in place….


ps: One thing of note – The LIRR and predecessors of NYCT did share trackage 100+ years ago. There is no technical reason it can’t be done today – only bureaucratic reasons prevent this from happening.

al May 7, 2012 - 1:11 pm

The LIRR nominal 750V third rail might overpower/overheat NYCTA 625V rolling stock electrical systems. You would need dual voltage equipment.

Bruce M May 7, 2012 - 7:26 pm

What about the issue of car widths: are IND subway cars as wide as LIRR cars? I am guessing they are a bit narrower (not as narrow as IRT of course). If that were the case it would not be possible to run both services along the same tracks since platforms of stations would have to be shaved back (unless they were willing to add gap fillers a la 14th Street/Union Sq.

It’s too bad the Subway & LIRR were never made compatible. The Tokyo Subway is very integrated with the surrounding suburban railways. Imagine if LIRR trains could switch to the F-tracks at the 63rd St. tunnel and run down 6th Avenue and back out to Brooklyn.

Alex C May 8, 2012 - 12:39 am

Both 10 feet at thresholds for the doors. However, FRA cars also can extend out to 10 feet, 6 inches once above the floor/door threshold. There’s also the issue of car length, as LIRR is 85 feet, while IND/BMT is 60 feet or 75 feet. Point is, running on same tracks is never happening.

Anon256 May 8, 2012 - 3:29 pm

While I don’t think running on the same tracks makes sense in this case, it should in fairness be noted that car width doesn’t need to be an issue if LIRR and subway trains stop at different platforms and only share tracks between stations. (For example sharing the bridge across Jamaica Bay with quad-tracking only at Broad Channel and splitting at Hammels to serve different branches. Or, more usefully, having subway trains from Jamaica to Manhattan run nonstop on the LIRR mainline for some distance as a Queens super-express service.)

Asher May 7, 2012 - 4:47 am

Was the ROW de-mapped and sold to a private company, or is the schoolbus yard just squatting?

Anon256 May 8, 2012 - 3:38 pm

Presumably the schoolbus yard pays rent to the city.

Corey Best May 7, 2012 - 5:45 am

The MTA still owns all the ROW , businesses over time have built onto them….

Al D May 7, 2012 - 9:51 am

I wonder if the agrument of possession is 9/10’s of the law would be made by the private businesses or would they go quietly with an eminent domain buyout?

Marc Shepherd May 7, 2012 - 10:22 am

Eminent domain is the wrong term: they don’t own the land, so there is nothing to buy.

It is more of a practical matter. Those schoolbuses have to go somewhere, and the political branch will feel itself obligated to create ballfields somewhere else, to make up for those taken away.

Al D May 7, 2012 - 12:47 pm

Yes, exactly, but because they’ve been there for a very long, can they make some claim of ownership?

Bolwerk May 7, 2012 - 1:08 pm

If so much as an easement has been created, I think eminent domain is necessary. Otherwise, I guess it’s just an eviction. And that’s assuming this is actually abandoned, and no adverse possession has taken place.

But then, my knowledge of real estate law is pretty rusty.

mp May 8, 2012 - 6:59 am

Typically private parties can’t adverse possess or similarly acquire easements over government land regardless of how long they occupied the site Politically kicking out businesses and school busses is another issue, particularly for a city that has great difficulties getting even the slightest transit project done.

Bolwerk May 8, 2012 - 10:39 am

Yes, true. I was going on the assumption that the LIRR still owned this; another poster said it is the city, which makes sense.

Nathanael May 19, 2012 - 4:15 pm

“Typically private parties can’t adverse possess or similarly acquire easements over government land regardless of how long they occupied the site.”

I think actually there’s a procedure for it, but the private parties have to go to court to get hold of the government land. The presumptions are all in favor of the government.

JebO May 7, 2012 - 2:41 pm

The MTA still owns all the ROW , businesses over time have built onto them….

Actually, the entire ROW is owned by the City of New York, not the State of New York’s MTA. But your point is well taken.

Stu Sutcliffe May 8, 2012 - 3:10 pm

Not for more than 20 years.

TP May 7, 2012 - 9:31 am

construction costs would pale in comparison with, say, Phase II of the Second Ave. Subway

How about construction costs per potential future rider? What’s the economic impact of Phase II of SAS vs the Rockaway Beach Branch? What’s the zoning like in the neighborhoods that would see increased service? Can we put up some highrises around the stations or will NIMBYs have a conniption?

dungone May 7, 2012 - 11:48 am

Anything outside of Manhattan has greater economic potential than anything in Manhattan as long as you look far enough into the future. Americans seem to have this penchant for putting up buildings and infrastructure that will have to last 50, 100 years, but only by considering their short-term benefit. That’s why NYC is the way it is. Overcrowded and impossible in the center, under-utilized and under-serviced in the middle, and economically depressed on the outside.

Anon256 May 8, 2012 - 4:00 pm

Phases 1 and 2 of the Second Avenue Subway will together carry more people in a year than the Rockaway Park shuttle carries in 50 years.

There are a number of corridors (TriboroRX, Utica, Northern, Nostrand) in the outer boroughs that do merit investment, but to say “anything outside of Manhattan has greater economic potential than anything in Manhattan” is absurd, no matter how long-term you think. And if you’re that worried about the welfare of people 50-100 years from now, putting money in the bank to earn interest is often a better way of helping them than “investing” in overbuilt transit to low-density suburbia.

Spendmore Wastemore May 7, 2012 - 11:13 am

Possibly a dumb question, but if it’s an old LIRR trackway, why not run LIRR trains on it? They would run less frequently than nycta, but then any relief from the filth, noise, child size seats and clanking, grinding snail’s pace built into the the subway is welcome.

Nyland8 May 7, 2012 - 11:37 am

After perusing the options in Castellano’s paper, I like the R train alternative the most. Sure, it requires a little bit of tunneling, but it seems to open up a lot of possibilities, all for the price of a MetroCard swipe. It’s unclear, however, what the advantage is of going all the way back to Woodhaven Blvd. Tunneling to 63rd Drive-Rego Park would only involve tunnel mining a couple of blocks.

All the other options seem relatively prohibitive from a cost standpoint. Certainly the duel-use options present a host of logistical problems, including platform and rolling stock modifications – perhaps even total reconfiguration of stations. The LIRR Rockaway loop seems like a total pipe dream – as does joining the Air Train – but the LIRR to Howard Beach seems relatively accessible, and I’m sure a lot of JFK users would appreciate and avail themselves of that option.

jim May 7, 2012 - 6:31 pm

The actually cheap version (no tunneling):

Rehabilitate the RBB between Howard Beach and the Lower Montauk. Rebuild the connection to the Lower Montauk (this is where the ballfields encroach, and part of a parking lot). Rehabilitate (and power) the Lower Montauk to Dutch Kills. Add a second track to the current single track which descends from the flyover from the Dutch Kills bridge to connect with the LIRR Mainline.

Rebuild the Ozone Park and Brooklyn Manor stations on the RBB, the four abandoned stations on the Lower Montauk and the Elmshurst and Corona stations on the Port Washington branch.

Reconstruct the Aqueduct and Howard Beach stations so that they can be shared by NYCT and LIRR trains. Upgrade the Woodside station to make intra-LIRR transfers easier (and perhaps LIRR-7 transfers, too).

Run trains along the RBB from Howard Beach, then along the Lower Montauk, then into the LIRR mainline, then along the Port Washington branch to terminate at Bayside (there’s a small yard just east of Bayside that could be used to turn trains). That’s about a twenty-mile run, all within Queens — think of it as the Oneboro RX. This actually does, in Castellano’s words, connect south and north Queens: Bayside is close to an inlet of the Sound; Howard Beach an inlet of the Ocean. Woodside would be the big transfer station: transfer there for Penn Station or Grand Central or Forest Hills and Kew Gardens or Nassau or even Suffolk counties.

Costs: 3.5 miles of total rehab, say at $20M/mile: $70M; 7 miles of milder rehab, say at $10M/mile: $70M; a new flyover within Harold, say $50M; eight restored stations, say at $20M each: $160M; three reconstructed stations, say at $35M each: $105M; round trip of two hours (including turn time) at six tph requires a dozen train sets: $200M. This gives a ROM of $655M. Small, perhaps, compared to SAS or the 7 extension, but not nothing, neither.

I don’t know that I’m completely serious about this proposal, but it does point up that the RBB is not the only essentially unused RoW in Queens and that the RBB alone doesn’t actually do much. It’s not clear that connecting the RBB into the Main Line at Rego Park is feasible given the traffic levels that will be running along the Main Line once ESA opens. The actual Castellano proposal to make it a subway which terminates at Rego Park is (IMHO) unlikely to attract many riders (one of the recurring themes in RBB revival proposals is there are no even ballpark ridership estimates). The various Krulewitch subway conversion proposals start to run awful expensive.

People should keep talking about it. Perhaps someone will come up with a workable affordable proposal. But I haven’t seen one yet.

Jeff May 8, 2012 - 10:16 am

Estimates are way too low, and it would probably cost a ton more to bring power the Lower Montauk – keep in mind that they will need to acquire land to build power stations for that too.

I like that NIMBY land Rego Park and Forest Hills is being avoided though, and the Lower Montauk goes through less controversial places, so there might be something there.

Steve May 8, 2012 - 11:12 am

The Oneboro RX is appealing from the standpoint of making use of existing infrastructure, but if the G can’t get any respect, I can’t imagine how it would either. The G at least hits DT Brooklyn and LIC — Oneboro RX is all residential, as far as I can see.

That said, it does seem like rehabbing the Elmhurst and Corona stops and getting more train frequency on the Port Washington Branch is a pretty good idea.

Nyland8 May 8, 2012 - 3:52 pm

Jim … quite an ambitious project.

My first thoughts are: 1) Your newly conceived LIRR line would run to four stops along the Lower Montauk Line – stops that the LIRR closed just a little over a decade ago. Why would they want them reopened? If they wanted traffic at those stops, they could simply resume it. 2) Your train run leads to no major terminal. As such, it presumes a need that hasn’t been demonstrated. 3) It never even makes it to anywhere in Long Island, so it isn’t likely to appeal to the LIRR in any way. What would be there justification to run an inner borough train? 4) By going out the Port Washington Line, you service stations that already have service.

I don’t see any compelling motivation for the LIRR just to run a train to a bunch of stops it already goes to, or ones that it could go to but were closed as recently as ’98, or run a train that goes neither to any of their big four hubs – nor even to Nassau or Suffolk Counties. To call it a stretch would be an understatement.

My next series of thoughts are: I’d take a closer look at your optimistic numbers. As we speak, just extending the PATH system down to Newark Airport is expected to cost $500 million – for a 2.6 mile run along an existing ROW. That would put your first two numbers off by more than a factor of 10. But lets be optimistic – and start your count with $1.4 billion. Then train sets, station building including handicap access, unforeseen incidentals and some cost overruns will put your total around $2 billion +/- … well over three times your estimate.

That said, I find it useful that you called attention to the underutilized Lower Montauk Line, because while running an inner borough train is clearly out of the purview of the LIRR, it is right in the round house of the subway system. The MTA should be encouraged to redevelop the Rockaway Branch, perhaps annexing the Lower Montauk in their plans. A few stations should reopen in what are now underserved areas, and perhaps a few other stations in areas that have never seen service. And while none of these propositions are inexpensive, the cost would have to be weighed against the cost of undertaking megaprojects that do not have the head start of existing ROW, and wind up with land acquisition, site remediation and engineering costs that can drive up the price in substantial and unforeseen ways. While reactivating an existing ROW isn’t entirely NIMBY proof, it is much closer to a sure thing than totally new construction.

But it seems to me that two things can be said about the entire proposition. One is that it makes more sense for the ROWs to be subsumed into the subway system than the LIRR, and two is that if some plan isn’t implemented soon, the locals really should build a greenway. Because to leave those rail trails fallow indefinitely serves no one’s best interest – except perhaps the squatters.

Alon Levy May 9, 2012 - 2:48 am

The Newark AirTrain extension would require additional elevated construction, driving up the cost. What Jim is proposing is at-grade, primarily on existing track, with some (expensive) grade separations of railroad junctions.

Nathanael May 19, 2012 - 4:17 pm

Hey hey hey. What do you mean it “never makes it to anywhere in Long Island”? Queens and Brooklyn are in Long Island.

I think the failure of the LIRR to recognize that Queens and Brooklyn are, in fact, in Long Island is one of its more major failures.

nyland8 May 19, 2012 - 5:13 pm

Point taken . . . It would have been more accurate to say that it never makes it out of the boroughs – which is the domain of the subway system. But certainly the LIRR does have stops in the boroughs – just not along any lines that don’t lead to stops beyond the boroughs.

But I guess you have no issue with my other three points?

Anon256 May 9, 2012 - 3:26 pm

What is the point of going all the way to Bayside? Trains could just terminate at the planned Sunnyside Junction station (which could be designed for easy transfers). Or even loop around Sunnyside Yard and run directly into Penn or GCT.

Would you electrify the Lower Montauk and RBB, or use DMUs?

jim May 9, 2012 - 5:13 pm

I’m afraid people didn’t pay enough attention to the line, “I don’t know that I’m completely serious about this proposal.” Perhaps I threw it away too much.

What is the point of going all the way to Bayside? Rhetorical. Castellano had talked of connecting north and south Queens, but Rego Park is more mid-Queens. Bayside is clearly north Queens.

Would you electrify the Lower Montauk and RBB? Yes.
it would probably cost a ton more to bring power the Lower Montauk Probably not. The standard estimate for overhead power is $5M/mile (which includes power stations and transformers for which should be room in Fresh Pond Yard). Third rail should, if anything, run cheaper.

I don’t want to defend the cost estimates in general. To a great extent they were rectal plucks. But they shouldn’t be too far off. Yes, the total is too low. It should have included contingencies and overhead, at least. But at least I gave a Rough Order of Magnitude estimate and showed my working. No other proposal for reviving the RBB has done so. My guess at the cost of the Castellano proposal is close to $500M before contingencies and overhead. That doesn’t come from laying track. It comes from building multi-level fare-controlled stations to ADA requirements. I don’t know the PATH extension, but a first guess would be that the cost estimate includes expensive stations. Certainly the WMATA Silver Line costs have been driven by station construction costs. Costs for WMATA infill stations range from $100M to $240M. Commuter rail stations are much cheaper: the Metro-North into Penn Station AA used a range of $10-$25M for at or near grade stations.

Nathanael May 19, 2012 - 4:18 pm

Third rail is almost always more expensive than overhead. Just so you know. More substations, more metal on a third rail than on an overhead wire, more insulators, etc.

AG May 22, 2012 - 7:05 pm

Yes – that is true about third rail…. but it’s well worth it when it comes to things like reliability. Ppl who right the Met North New Haven line will tell you – most of the delays are on the areas with overhead lines.

Nathanael May 19, 2012 - 4:21 pm

In most circumstances with an elevated or depressed line, you are nowadays best off with a wide island platform and a single surface-level fare control building. I’m not sure why it’s been so common to build with complex stacks of multiple mezannines to multiple platforms; it means a lot more elevators to maintain.

Bruce M May 7, 2012 - 7:30 pm

While it would be wonderful to link the RBB to the Queens Blvd. subway, this would be extremely costly and also increase the burden on this already overburdened line. It seems to me that connecting to the LIRR main line would provide a speedy link from Penn Station to the Airtrain station at Howard Beach at a much lower (and politically less formidable) cost.

jim May 7, 2012 - 7:59 pm

But there is already a link from Penn Station to the Airtrain station at Jamaica. Why is another to Howard Beach needed? What additional ridership will it serve?

Bolwerk May 8, 2012 - 12:57 pm

I agree with Jim. In fact, I just don’t see any point to a service other than a subway. People along existing routes can already get to Manhattan. What they can’t do, easily, is get to other parts of Queens and Brooklyn. Fix that first, then worry about getting people who live along the Rockaway Line to Manhattan.

Today’s Headlines | Streetsblog New York City May 8, 2012 - 9:00 am

[…] Reviving the Rockaway Branch as a North-South Subway Connection for Queens (2nd Ave Sagas) […]

Peter May 14, 2012 - 3:55 pm

I am all for mass transit as I am a daily user of it. But this idea, as grand as it seems at first blush is actually short sighted and proves the writer has never toured the line or understands the neighborhoods it runs through. First and foremost, we should all be clear on something. The writer’s justification for creating this line is somewhat specious: the Rockaways has affordable mass transit that connects it to the rest of Queens, Brooklyn and all of Manhattan. Perhaps not a 30 minute ride to Midtown, but where are the statistics to prove that so many Rockaway residents actually have a commute to Midtown or would be willing to pay an LIRR fare instead of $2.25 for the existing subway. As several commentators here have noted, MTA ridership numbers actually show that Rockaway stations have some of the lowest numbers in the system. What is being argued here is not the creation of a train line for the Rockaways but an upgrade in service, which I am sure many New Yorkers would love to have. The Rockaways suffer no particular or unique disadvantage and are actually better off than many parts of the City and larger Metropolitan region that lack any train service at all. And when you consider the state of the MTA’s budget and the projects already on the drawing board or under way but being slowed down, it would be decades before this project could ever be done.

Further the idea that White Pot Junction could be turned into a transit hub in central Queens is absurd. This writer evidently has never visited Rego Park (not Kew Gardens as he misidentifies the location of the line) or he would know that the Shalimar Diner now sits in what was once the parking lot for the old train station. And he would know that all routes into the old train station have been built over. Which buildings does he propose to tear down to build his transit hub? He also would know that 63rd Drive, the only major commercial road running past White Pot Junction is already an over taxed roadway that is bumper to bumper at rush hour and weekends when everyone is either trying to reach the LIE or the nearby shopping malls. Finally to connect this with the subway instead of the LIRR mainline you would need to build an almost mile-long tunnel from 66th Street under a densely populated residential neighborhood. There is simply no capacity to build a transportation hub here.

And that is before you get to the parks, ball fields, parking lots and possibly homes that would face eminent domain seizure and destruction to build the line. And it would be “building” not “reactivating” as not a single piece of usable infrastructure remains on the right-of-way, and erosion has undermined much of the rail bed. During the intervening 50+ years, many buildings, including schools and homes have been built very close to the right-of-way and my understanding is that modern rail safety standards would likely require their condemnation and demolition to enable a widening of the right-of-way.

There are alternatives. Selective Bus Service up Cross-Bay and Woodhaven Blvd’s would greatly increase transportation options for not just the relatively few midtown commuters, but for everyday people who need to shop, and pick kids up from school and visit friends and relatives; tasks a train with few stops and connections would not be very helpful for. Also there is an existing subterranean LIRR Station under Atlantic Avenue in Woodhaven that could be reactivated providing residents in that area with access to downtown Brooklyn and Jamaica and points on Long Island. These would be better ways to spend our transit dollars.

As for the Right-of-Way itself it still should be considered for use as a transportation corridor, but one that ties the neighborhoods along its length together instead of flying over them on the way to midtown. It can be used as a corridor that enables people to travel door to door faster than most other forms of transportation, provides access to neighborhood schools and shopping, connects to busses and subway lines and simultaneously provides an accessible and beautiful recreation space; particularly in the park starved and under serviced neighborhoods at the southern end of the line. As a bikeway, the right-of-way can be reborn as a transportation corridor without destroying other parks, condemning parking lots or buildings, and without destroying the quality of life of those who live along it. As Bike Share starts in July and over the next few years begins spreading through Queens, the right-of-way is uniquely positioned to take advantage of New York’s latest mode of public transportation. I love trains, but we cannot be carried away with this alleged one-size-solves-all solution that ignores the realities of the neighborhoods the right-of-way runs through.

A NIMBY response to the unlikely Rockaway Line :: Second Ave. Sagas May 30, 2012 - 12:02 am

[…] I explored how the project’s proponents were making a compelling case for the Rockaway Beach Line. It’s not particularly tough to figure out how reviving a dormant […]

Dani June 5, 2012 - 4:49 pm

For those of you who wanted a map of the abondoned route, I created it here: http://goo.gl/maps/OO4F

Top 10 Tips in Keeping Apartment Dogs | Paws Kennels Blog June 10, 2012 - 12:07 pm

[…] Making the case for the Rockaway Beach Branch – Second Ave. Sagas […]

Philip McManus November 2, 2014 - 12:34 am

Dear Friends,

We need you to help us reopen the Queens Rockaway Beach Line for transportation. Please contact me so we can organize and increase faster transportation for the city. We need you to go to meetings, rallies, write letters to the media and elected leaders and collect signatures for petitions. We need to show people and the media and leaders that we are growing and organizing.

Get involved and make a difference for millions of New Yorkers.

Philip McManus
Queens Public Transit Committee

Philip McManus November 7, 2014 - 12:56 pm

Dear Friends,

Tell everybody! Rain or shine.

We are having a Queens Transportation Rally and Protest on Sunday, November 09, 2014 starting at 12:45 pm at the Opening Ceremony of the New Fulton Transit Center on Fulton Street between Nassau Street and Broadway. The press will be near by.
We will protest peacefully as close as possible. We need everyone to be together for a photo opportunity at 1:30 pm.

Why does our Manhattan government steal our time, prosperity and our transit infrastructure? Ex. Queens RBL, Ferry, Shuttle train, longer travel times with toll bridges, speeding cameras, enforcement and lack of transit funding in Queens and the outer boroughs?

Is this fair? How can we help ourselves when the fix is in? Organize and fight back! Don’t be a spectator, get involved now!

Please let us know if you can attend and tell your family, friends and neighbor to do the same. Please bring a poster.

Philip McManus
Queens Public Transit Committee

Faster transportation will create more social, economic, recreational, and environmental opportunities.

We are promoting several petitions:






Q 52 Bus

Station Agents

Metro North Station in Queens








cats01 November 29, 2015 - 11:39 am

I was lucky enough to be on the first subway train to the Rockaways, courtesy of my father who was given a couple of tickets. The first ride was breathtakingly long and slow. Once it officially opened, we both used it to get to Manhattan. The ride was so painfully slow that we went back to our old route (Green Bus to Flatbush Ave, the the IRT to Manhattan. Yes, everyone had expected that the Rockaway Line would connect to the IND Queens Line. In fact, in the 1930’s a stub end station was built at Roosevelt Avenue complete with trackways and flying bridge overpasses so that through Rockaway trains could join the Queens line. In fact, that stub station is still there, unused.

There were rumors of all sorts as to why the change was made to go through Euclid Ave., instead. One “excuse” was that the Queens line was too crowded to take more traffic. Another much-less-appetizing rumor was that the City wanted to “integrate the Rockaways” by making it easier for those living in places like Bed-Stuy to get there.

I no longer live in NYC, but I do remember everything that went about bringing the subway to the Rockaways. From what I gather today, the trip isn’t a whole lot better than it was on the day it opened.

Merijn Passchier September 12, 2016 - 4:06 pm

Having seen the ROW on Google Maps and Earth and soforth (I live in the Netherlands and have never even been near NYC so take it for what you will) but i`d be glad to give my 2 cents.

Now first and foremost i`m pro-subway…

2nd. Doing nothing with property like that is stupid…

With that cleared uplet me go into my plan. and for that I will first split the line into 5 parts The street area (Liberty Ave – Atlantic Ave), The Suburban area (Atlantic Ave to Park Lane South), The Park Area (Park Lane South to Union Turnpike), the Rego Park area and Queens Bloulevard connection (Union Turnpike – Connection with Queens Blvd Line) and the abandoned upper level at Roosevelt Ave – Jackson Heights.

First let me dispel the park idea. Now it would be an awfull, noisy and rather unattractive park. It would either be noisy, People`s back yards or and then Forest park… Wich was a park already and Rego Park who have Flushing Meadows and Forest Park nearby…
I just don`t see it becoming a popular park Especially not at the park deprived north end were there is an active Elevated Subway Junction (constant train wheel screetching on a steel structure, yes great for relaxation) while below there are busy streets…
The only way to preserve the peace and quiet and the peoples along the ROW`s privacy is to put up (sound-)walls… Yes great park…

You see, the reason the High Line works is because of how high it is it`s grid defying nature giving plenty of quiet spaces along the way, and it also helps it goes straight trough buildings almost encapsulating it and greatly reducing noise.

In Queens you don`t have that luxury since it`s low rise construction andthe line doesn`t defy the grid but follows it. Either that or you look straight into someon`s backyard or it`s a park already or there are enough and better parks nearby.

And these sound walls is why I also think the subway plans are gonna work. You know all those people and buisnisses who build on the ROW? expell them and chase rent put said rent into a special pot for new adhesive rails, and quiet train axels and soundwalls and the like where requred (and IF anything`s left it can go into the other stuff concerning the subway).
“it makes so much noise” well thank`s to your “Generous donation`s” it doesn`t anymore so qit you`re moaning, your property prices will go up cause there is a great connection to Manhattan now. They put there stuff on ground that isn`t theirs. Sothat is the risk you take.

As for the connection to the Queens Blvd line After Metropolitan Ave I`d dive under and tunnel under Rego Park and connect with the train running over the Queens Blvd Line and into the abandoned upper level at Roosevelt Ave, altough on weekend only. And with that, let`s talk about service patterns.

I think that extending any Queens Blvd line to Rockaway Park. For example the M service (with a service to Roosevelt on weekeinds when that train doesn`t run below the boulevard).

I think this sould then also make the park people happy because people from Ozone Park and South Woodhaven will be able to get onto the subway (possibly using their bikes as people use their car less because they have the subway, freeing up roadspace for people on bikes) get on the subway, exit at Forest Park and bike there to their heart`s content. Wich over here in the Netherlands is also a common way to commute. People have an old bike at home wich they don`t mind getting stolen, park it at a station all day, take the train to work and have another rusty old bike at the station near work to get from the station to work, either tat or they use folding bikes they can take with them on the train) also be a great way to promote cycling in the area.

As for demand. It isn`t just the transit demands for Rockaway Park, JFK Airport and Manhatten. Last I cheked The A train didn`t juststop at only 207th St and 149th St – Grand Concourse in The Bronx before continuing to Manhattan. South rego Park as a big market, as Has Union Turnpike (with Forest Park) Jamaica Ave (interchange With Jamaica line El), At Atlantic Ave (big Street) 101st Ave (same reason) and Libery Ave (again, same reason) plus they interchange with bus-lines).

And who says both the bike path and the subwayand bike path can`t co-exist? the line from Liberty Ave to 91st Ave is 4 trakcs and since I can`t see Expesses running on this line just have the bike path on the outside trakways were the station platforms will be also will also be, fence the subway off properly were there is no station (so no flimsy chainlink). Fence the bike path off were ther is (horizontally to that the back sides of platforms will be bike path and the wider front area (side facing the track that is) will be wating area you could continue this succsessfully until about Atlantic Ave where 98th St as a local suburb street that is safe enough to cycle down can get you to Forest Park.

But then again What do I know?


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