Over the past few months, reactivating the Rockaway Beach has because the cause célèbre for 2012 amongst rail activists. It’s a long shot that may benefit from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s desires to bring a giant casino to the Ozone Park area, but it’s certainly rankling and inspiring Queens residents along the long-dormant right of way.
Recently, 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 right of way that crosses numerous subway lines and could provide a fast ride to Midtown Manhattan from some rather isolated neighborhoods would benefit the city, but it’s an argument that needs to be heard.
It needs to be heard because elected officials are now the ones parroting NIMBY talking points. Enter Karen Koslowitz, a City Council member from Forest Hills. A few weeks ago, she railed against the rail line at a Community Board meeting. The Times-Ledger was on the scene:
“It will affect the neighborhood in an extremely negative way,” said Koslowitz. “The train will burden residents who have built their homes close to those tracks. We cannot allow another train to come through our neighborhood.”
“It’s an intrusion on private property,” she said.
The Regional Rail Working Group Rockaway Subcommittee, a transit advocacy group, released options for the line in February. The options include a plan that would build two stations at Rego Park and Aqueduct Race Track. The revived railroad line could potentially be used to shuttle passengers from Penn Station to Resorts World Casino and a proposed convention center at Aqueduct in South Ozone Park.
“The city is closing schools and shutting down after-school programs,” Koslowitz said. “I would like to know where the money is coming from to rebuild this railway.” Koslowitz said she plans to fight “tooth and nail” against the reopening of the railway and pledged to “bring it up at Council meetings.”
The Queens Chronicle had a few more choice quotes from Koslowitz. “We will protest, even if I have to lie down. We don’t want this in our community,” she said. “The Rockaways need transportation, but not on our backs. We don’t need another train running through that doesn’t service our area.”
It’s hard to wrap my heard around such patently absurd statements from someone elected to represent a neighborhood on the City Council. How does a New Yorker argue so vehemently against increased rail access? How does a politician not understand that rail is what drives the city and what will determine our economic success and future viability?
Koslowitz’s individual arguments aren’t accurate either. Nothing about reactivating an unused but hardly secret right of way is an intrusion on private property, and while people who foolishly built homes abutting rail road tracks may not like it, better rail access would actually improve the neighborhood in an extremely positive way. Furthermore, many of the homes along the right of way were built before the old Rockaway Beach Branch was deactivated. Koslowitz is treating trains as though it is an invading species intent on ruining her idyllic New York City neighborhood, and her words — “we cannot allow another train through here” — are extremely off-putting and historically inaccurate.
Finally, Koslowitz seems to have no grasp on the funding situation in play. If the MTA is tasked with reopening the Rockaway Beach Branch, the state would fund the construction, likely via some incremental financing scheme arranged with Genting, the planned casino operators. She can fight tooth and nail in the City Council, but when it comes to MTA projects, she’ll be facing quite the uphill battle.
Ultimately, we may all be arguing against nothing. The MTA isn’t exactly prioritizing this reactivation, and silence has enveloped the Genting plan. The state hasn’t shown a willingness to see this through, and only locals are fighting over it. Still, Koslowitz and her words are why we do not have an ambitious plan to improve rail access in New York City. NIMBYs are forever fighting against the transportation that has made New York what it is today.