Home Queens A NIMBY response to the unlikely Rockaway Line

A NIMBY response to the unlikely Rockaway Line

by Benjamin Kabak

A school bus parking lot now occupies a part of the Rockaway Beach Branch right of way.

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.

You may also like


Alex C May 30, 2012 - 12:06 am

Intrusion on private property, eh? Can the squatters then get off the Rockaway ROW they’re encroaching on?

John-2 May 30, 2012 - 2:01 am

Koslowitz’s focus seems to be just on the area between Metropolitan Avenue and Queens Blvd., to the point that part of her argument could pretty much be demolished by simply extending the underground portion of the line along the ROW well past the White Pot Junction area where the Rockaway Line originally branched off, and put the eventual portal either at or past Metropolitan Avenue.

Since the ROW is still there, the far cheaper cut-and-cover method could be used to keep the line underground and away from the Rego Park-Forest Hills NIMBYs that Koslowitz’s anti-transit rant represents. She might oppose the project anyway, but shifting the portal location south would force her to show her hand, if the Convention Center/racino plan develop to the point that the revival of the Rockaway Line moves out of the circle of rail enthusiasts and into the world of politicians with actual power to get it done.

Jeff May 30, 2012 - 2:17 pm

She would find a new way to complain – this time about the cut-and-cover construction through her neighborhood. Plus that’s that age-old argument about the shaking from the trains damaging the foundations of homes.

al May 30, 2012 - 4:21 pm

Negative. Modern rail construction, including welded rails, full rail support slab and ladder tracks, and other vibration eliminating/absorbing technologies exist.

Jeff May 31, 2012 - 6:18 am

Doesn’t mean they won’t complain about it.

JC May 30, 2012 - 9:00 am

Putting the line underground would be a sad additional expense – but if its necessary you could get the rail line AND the greenway.

Look at the MinuteMan Trail Extension in Cambridge\Somerville MA. (in my not fully vetted understanding) it was surface level rail line – and then the subway was extended from Harvard to Alewife (underground), ROW used, and the bikepath built on top of the subway line.

Alon Levy June 4, 2012 - 11:06 pm

If they put it underground, they might as well have a subway under Woodhaven instead, which would hit more important retail centers.

My understanding is that the line is grade-separated, and so underground construction is unnecessary. The railroad that the Red Line runs under was at-grade, and so an extension would have to involve expensive urban grade separations, reducing the extra cost of tunneling.

JMB May 30, 2012 - 9:22 am

As a new resident to the Forest Hills neighborhood, I plan on going to this woman’s office and voicing my disent against her wholly unsupported and false argument to deny this rail line. We have two raillines that run through our hood, the IND and the LIRR, both of which serve us. Idkwtf she is talking about that they don’t. Furthermore, I climbed up the old ROW to scope it out the other weekend (accessed it near Yellowstone Blvd). What’s currently there now seems to be homeless encampments and illegal dumping (and some cool RR relics too). This woman is nuts if she thinks that is more preferable to a functioning rai line.

AG June 5, 2012 - 12:26 am

Good idea…let us know if she actually will meet with you. It’s good to let politicians know that not everyone is easily fooled by their speeches.

JMB May 30, 2012 - 10:07 am

Also, isn’t the picture in this post misleading? That pic with the busses parked on it isn’t really the ROW so much as a ramp that connected the branch to the Atlantic Avenue branch and wouldn’t be necessary (or am i mistaken?)

Phil May 30, 2012 - 10:30 am

Pretty cool shot of the old portal to/from the atlantic ave tunnel going to the far rock branch. That would be a good connection to reuse if they ever did reopen the branch as LIRR.

Think twice May 30, 2012 - 3:00 pm

Or if they convert the Atlantic Branch itself into a NYCTA subway super express.

Al D May 30, 2012 - 11:56 am

The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few (or the one). In a transit starved borough, you’d think this fool would welcome most ANY rail addition, or risk getting a dreadful +SBS+ treatment instead! And it would serve her constituents too with easy access to JFK. As for residents near an inactive rail line? I mean c’mon. isn’t there always a chance, however small, that an inactive line may 1 day become active again?

Maybe she should also be lobbying for closure of the LIRR Main Line for the very same reasons she opposes reactivating the Rockaway Branch.

lawhawk May 30, 2012 - 2:18 pm

It’s the same kind of argument by NIMBYots around the country who oppose projects on properties that predate the NIMBYot’s own presence there. They’d rather maintain the status quo – and all the failings of transit, communications, etc., than see their neighborhood change an iota even if the change is for the better (and there would be enhanced rail access to this area).

The Councilwoman’s ignorance on property rights is astounding considering that the ROW predates many of those properties and supersedes them in any event. Land held in a public or governmental capacity may not be lost by adverse possession (City of New York v. Sarnelli Bros., Inc., 280 A.D.2d 513, 720 N.Y.S.2d 555; Starner Tree Service Company, Inc. V City of New Rochelle, 271 A.D.2d 681, 707 N.Y.S.2d 867)

So, those homeowners/businesses along the ROW that decided that they could partake in land abutting their own for their own use will be out of luck because the right of way continues to exist (and others have been pushing to use it for parkland, not rail).

It’s not the same situation as with Sheepshead Bay, where the LIRR lost track of a ROW that it acquired and doesn’t connect with any current part of the system. However, even there, the LIRR is considering its options against the homeowners.

Evan June 7, 2012 - 2:44 pm

Having seen politicians’ behavior over the years, I’m inclined to think that she knows perfectly well that her argument isn’t worth a bowl of spit-and doesn’t care, since she knows this basic rule about the world: whoever screams the loudest is given the most credibility, no matter how insane or inane their talking points may be.

ajedrez May 30, 2012 - 2:59 pm

What the hell is she talking about “We don’t need another train running through that doesn’t service our area.”? It will have a stop right in the neighborhood. And if that’s not part of the plan, ask for it to be included, but don’t shut the whole project down.

publicadmin031568 May 30, 2012 - 4:02 pm

why couldn’t the MTA have done the same thing with The High Line in Manhattan? build a ramp from the 14th st line, and connect it to the javits center, instead of tunneling across 11th avenue? ever see the Dow Commercial on tv, with the Quiet Rails?

al May 30, 2012 - 4:26 pm

You’d need a 30′ wide ramp to get it there. That would require demolition block long segment of streetfront or eliminate 3 traffic lanes on 14th St.

publicadmin031568 May 30, 2012 - 11:41 pm

the mta built a ramp between the ditmas av station on the culver line, to the church avenue station, today’s F line in brooklyn.
this is still less disruptive than tunneling, AND demolition by eminent domain.

jim May 30, 2012 - 8:59 pm

The Right of Way is City-owned, so any reactivation would require the City’s consent. Whether a single city councilwoman could prevent that is dubious, but she does have some leverage.

Bolwerk May 30, 2012 - 10:16 pm

If you want to see one of the last refuges for traditional arch-conservatism in the United States, look no further than the New York City Democratic Party. It’s like I said last week: we just have stupid elected officials, almost without fail.

Anyway, whatever stupid thing she’s saying, what is scarier is what she might actually be thinking – and that is probably some deeper prejudice or paranoia. Maybe she’s afraid of upzoning. Maybe she’s afraid of pissing off a few morons who built their houses too close to the ROW, though that evidently doesn’t bother the City Council when it happens near downtown Brooklyn. Maybe she thinks too many blacks will use the train.

Frank B May 30, 2012 - 11:03 pm

My sentiments exactly.

Alex C May 31, 2012 - 1:57 am

That’s the same argument Staten Islanders essentially use when they oppose BRT or rail, that the poors might venture to their land. In her case though, she’s just ignorant on the subject.

Justin Samuels May 31, 2012 - 10:41 pm

If enough corporate interests fought for this, or if the governor wanted it, this woman’s objections would be completely irrelevant. Remember the Air Train? Well, a lot of NIMBY’s objected to that too. The Port Authority still did it, though. Perhaps if they got rolling stock capable of running on the Airtrain, LIRR, and Subway, you could have a direct ride from Penn station to JFK airport, which would also serve the casino. But you’d need to get the Port Authority on this. Would be nice if they were able to contribute some money for it.

Phantom June 1, 2012 - 5:42 pm

Won’t happen. Shouldn’t happen.

Just because a train ran this route fifty years ago does not mean that a train should be built there today.

Most of the people in this area are reasonably well served by the LIRR, Queens Blvd subway / J-Z / A-C lines.

Even if there was nearly unlimited funds available, this train line should fall behind a ton of other projects – full Second Avenue Subway, 7 train further extension south, North Shore Railway, Light Rail between Staten Island and NJ, N to LaGuardia, JFK one seat access to Manhattan. Maybe it should fall behind any other project.

Make the thing a trail.

Panthers June 3, 2012 - 2:08 pm


The area is served “reasonably well”? Please describe what you mean by reasonably well. All projects you mentioned are EQUALLY worthy. The major question to be asked is, why is your project any more important than my project. I’m sure the people in the Rockaway corridor would say they go above the N to LGA and any SI project. And while you are at it, we need at least two more stops on the L (between Bedford and the river and Avenue B) and G stops. Can we add those?

Anything that increases ridership, lessens our dependency on gas, can alleviate traffic and and lessen pollution is always a win-win situation.

Perhaps the major question to be asked is that if China can build rapid speed railroads in three years, why is it going to take seemingly forever to finish the 7 extension and second avenue subway?

Alon Levy June 4, 2012 - 4:35 pm

There’s pent-up demand for service in certain areas. SAS is projected to get 500,000 riders a day for the full line. Other places with strong potential demand: 125th, Triboro (relative to the lowest costs of surface construction), Utica, Nostrand.

Also, adding a stop on the L is impossible with current infrastructure – the line descends east of 1st and so there’s no level spot to put a station. People in the area have asked for a stop at Avenue C.

Andrew June 4, 2012 - 10:10 pm

An exit from the existing 1st Avenue stop at Avenue A would be very useful. Still not Avenue C, but a third of the way is better than nothing.

Phantom June 4, 2012 - 7:53 pm

If two or three people want to go from Rego Park to Rockaway Park, that’s not a priority.

If a train in this corridor met such a demand, they would have kept the old LIRR line in operation. There are many ways to get to lower and midtown Manhattan along this route

All projects most certainly are not equal.

If this ROW did not exist as a remnant, no one would have considered this thing.

But it will make for a swell bike path.

Evan June 7, 2012 - 3:15 pm

I take it that you’re a supporter of the Queensway plan, based on the content of your comments.

There are several reasons why this rail line would be most beneficial as such:
-if you look on any map in Queens that displays the subway, there is simply no easy way to get from Northern Queens to Southern Queens – which besides being annoying is also bad for commerce
– Tying in with the above point, the outer boroughs are now growing as areas of rapid job growth: there are now more jobs being created within these boroughs than all of Manhattan. Without a coherent north-south route to connect the Rockaways to the rest of Queens, how much can intra-boro job growth go on before it is stunted?
– With the subway being the way it is now, the Rockaways are in some ways an unofficial annex of Brooklyn (with no offense meant to Brooklyn). This railway link will unify Queens in ways we probably have never thought of before.
-Rockaway Beach (and everyone loves a beach) is only accessible to most of Queens only by car, as well as bus if you can squeeze your beach chair and towels onto the crowded and at times unreliable Woodhaven Blvd. buses (Q53, Q11, Q21).
-According to WCBS-AM (and the Wall Street Journal), people priced out of Manhattan are now searching for homes in Queens. Having more transportation access can only help making Queens more desirable.
-Look at Woodhaven Blvd. in the evening rush hour; there are more than 2 or 3 people that need to go from Rego Park to Rockaway Park in a hurry.

Given all these, I find it very hard to see your point that it should fall behind most projects or any other project. I agree that some projects (like the SAS that has been languishing for 80 years) demand a bit more attention, but each project you mentioned as well as this one are important in their own way; I hope you see the points made by many here on this blog.

Andrew June 4, 2012 - 10:14 pm

No, Phantom’s basic point is correct. Not all proposed improvements are equally worthy.

What goal are you trying to accomplish by reactivating the Rockaway Beach line? How well would it accomplish that goal, and at what cost?

AG June 5, 2012 - 12:30 am

There is no longer a plan for subway extension to LaGuardia…. it was killed a few years ago because people just like this Councilwoman complained about it disturbing the neighborhood.

Phantom June 5, 2012 - 8:16 am

That’s amazing. I go to LaGuardia often enough ( on the M60 of course ) and the Astoria Boulevard / route to the airport is one of the most traffic choked in the city.

A properly designed train link could really take some of the pressure off – the trip would be no time from midtown.

AG June 6, 2012 - 4:33 pm

I agree 100%… not sure why the community didn’t…

Evan June 7, 2012 - 3:17 pm

They do it for their own reasons; whether they are really valid in the big scheme of things or not doesn’t seem to matter.

Phantom June 7, 2012 - 8:07 pm

Elected representatives have an unfortunate tendency to pay undue attention to the professional complainers in their district.

AG June 5, 2012 - 12:23 am

Quite succinctly – she doesn’t know what she’s talking about. You pointed out everything that was wrong with her statement. That said – I hope they do NOT build the casino… that’s not the type of development NY needs.

Wanting but not wanting improvements in Queens :: Second Ave. Sagas June 6, 2012 - 11:28 am

[…] Karen Koslowitz, the City Council representative from Queens? A few weeks ago, she railed against the Rockaway Beach Branch line and the various plans to reactivate it. She was awfully vehement in her defense as […]


Leave a Comment