Home Queens NY Congressional reps set to back Rockaway Beach rail reactivation study

NY Congressional reps set to back Rockaway Beach rail reactivation study

by Benjamin Kabak

Could rail return where vegetation has taken over? (Photo via Friends of the QueensWay)

As supporters of QueensWay await RFP responses, the movement to restore rail to the Rockaway Beach Branch line has gained some political allies from Washington, D.C. Hakeem Jeffries and Greg Meeks — two members of New York’s congressional delegation — will throw their support behind those arguing for the rail option this weekend, according to numerous reports.

The Queens Chronicle broke the story yesterday:

Supporters of restoring rail service to the long abandoned Rockaway LIRR line may be about to get a major break in their favor. A source familiar with the plan to bring transit back to the line, which runs from Rego Park to the Rockaways and has been abandoned since 1962, said it will get the backing of the two Congressmen representing southern Queens.

The source says Reps. Hakeem Jeffries (D-Brooklyn) and Greg Meeks (D-Jamaica), whose districts meet at the Ozone Park section of the line, will endorse the proposal and push to allocate federal transportation subsidies to study a plan for bringing rail service back.

The rail idea has been championed by officials in the Rockaways, especially Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Rockaway Park). Supporters of reactivating the line, which connects to the LIRR’s main route into Penn Station at Rego Park, say it would drastically cut commute times for Rockaway residents, which are among the highest in the city. When the LIRR went to Rockaway Park in the 1950s, it took only about 40 minutes to get from the peninsula to Penn Station. Today, a ride on the A train could take more than twice that. Supporters also argue that the rail line would help spur development in an area that was devastated by Hurricane Sandy.

Essentially, Jeffries and Meeks are poised to deliver on the line I’ve been pushing here for a while: If we’re going to spend taxpayer dollars studying the park option, we must also do a thorough assessment of rail reactivation. Any rail usage of the Rockaway Beach Branch right-of-way has the potential to be far more important for Queens’ development, its economy, and its post-Sandy recovery than a park that won’t see much usage.

Still, while the park has generated its own set of opponents, a rail line reactivation would as well. As No Way QueensWay’s Neil Giannelli said to the Chronicle, “Out of all the residents who signed this [anti-park] petition on the block, only one person wanted a train, and he’s a 6-year-old boy who likes choo-choos. Everybody else wants it to be left alone.” How’s that for literal NIMBYism?

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3ddi3 March 22, 2013 - 11:55 am

My prayers have been answered, start this process!
Once the public knows the benefits of this, they will back it.
As much as we all love parks, the need for rail is greater, and if you want bike lanes, then put them on Woodhaven and Qns blvd! These are the most dangerous routes on the city and drivers think its Nascar. Putting bike lanes will hopefully slow cars to 30mph like they’re supposed to go.
Imagine, a straight train to Rockaways from Penn, hopefully the PANY/NJ will get on board and add a connection to JFK.

Someone March 22, 2013 - 3:15 pm

hopefully the PANY/NJ will get on board and add a connection to JFK.

Not if the MTA get first dibs on it first.

By the way, bike lanes are actually part of the Congested Corridors study.

BruceNY March 23, 2013 - 1:18 am

Or imagine living in a world where the MTA & PANYNJ work together and build a spur from the Rockaway Branch line (re-connected to the LIRR), across the JFK long term parking lot right into the central terminal area, providing a one-seat express train ride into Penn Station.

Frank B March 23, 2013 - 10:24 am

A man can dream…

Ryan March 24, 2013 - 8:30 pm

…But in a sane world, lawsuits about trackage rights would spring up everywhere.

Marc Shepherd March 22, 2013 - 12:56 pm

A lot of the comments on this site strike me as misplaced. The government doesn’t fund every little study that someone can think of. The Queensway people are far better organized. They earned their funding by arguing their case.

Now, like most people who read Ben’s blog, I am pro-transit, and think re-activation is a far better idea. But my support is generic: I don’t live in the area, and wouldn’t benefit personally. If it’s going to take hold, it needs community support — the kind of support that Queensway has.

If you’re angered that Cuomo is giving money to Queensway, perhaps the right question is why the community itself has not rallied around transit. Maybe they deserve their hour-long commute to midtown, if they are not willing to put their voices behind a better option that is literally in their back yard.

Benjamin Kabak March 22, 2013 - 1:01 pm

A lot of the residents who I’ve spoken worth and its local politicians have rallied around the transit option, but the tone of the media coverage has been decidedly weighted to the QueensWay option. Clearly, they’ve gotten the ear of politicians who are in a position to allocate funds to study rail. That’s what’s happening here.

Boris March 22, 2013 - 1:57 pm

That’s exactly what seems to be the problem – the rail line would benefit someone else (Rockaways residents) while the park would benefit residents living near the line. All politics is local, and transit is inherently not, so it doesn’t get the attention it deserves.

I happen to think that development on the Rockaways should not be encouraged because it is a barrier reef. And I don’t think it’s fair that it gets so much infrastructure investment relative to, say, Staten Island, which has no rail connection to the rest of the city. If Rockaways residents want a LIRR connection to the city, the best solution is reconnecting a few hundred feet of track between the shuttle train and the existing LIRR line.

The main goal of the line reactivation should be to benefit the neighborhood around JFK, not to inflate property values in what should be a natural area.

Bolwerk March 22, 2013 - 2:25 pm

I don’t see the community rallying around anything. I see some elements in the press thumping a park, backed by an advocacy group. Whatever the reason, rail never gets good P.R., which is why rail projects often get tossed aside or turn into “cheap” bus projects, which then get tossed aside. Maybe people expect the MTA to be rail’s defender, even though it’s not.

Let’s think about who benefits here for a second. I’ll throw out:

• Many living in the area

• Many who live elsewhere but work in the area

• Anyone who needs to get from the the vast expanse of Brooklyn and Queens served by the A to the vast expanse of Queens served by the Queens Boulevard lines

• Many people trying to get to the area (say, for its parks?)

• Summer beach goers?

Now, let’s consider who is harmed:

• Nobody?

• A stretch: people who really would prefer a park? But, it will just be a quiet park. It won’t be the mecca urban oasis its promoters imagine it will be.

And that last point brings us to a lot of the contradictions about the crowd floating the park: noise and crowds are bad to them, but a park is probably about as capable of producing noise and crowds as a well-made railroad.

Peter Corless March 25, 2013 - 12:30 pm

There’s a petition circulating in support of this initiative that began 2 months ago. It’s beginning to pick up steam after this recent news.

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo: Reactivate the LIRR Rockaway Line in Central Queens

The funding request for the study is being sent to the Department of Transportation. The hiccup is that the current Sec’y of Transportation, LaHood, is on his way out, and his successor is not yet approved by Congress.

However, this would be a good litmus test of the nominee’s sentiment for mass transit and urban rail projects. I’d be very curious to hear the opinion of Tom Perez.

Jerrold March 22, 2013 - 2:11 pm

Perhaps there would be more support for rail reactivation if at least one station were to be added, somewhere south of the Rego Park neighborhood and north of Jamaica Bay.
NIMBY is what you have to expect if people can say “They want to run trains though here that will benefit only the people in the Rockaways”.

I remember how some people who live near the Van Wyck expressed anger about how the Airtrain to JFK was built without an intermediate station BETWEEN Jamaica and JFK.

Bolwerk March 22, 2013 - 2:14 pm

Bear in mind that the opinions of people near the line shouldn’t have any more (or less) weight than those of everyone else in the city. Reactivating the line is beneficial to the entire city, not merely Rockaway residents.

Mike March 22, 2013 - 2:24 pm

The issue is how would rail line reactivation help the people in the community that would be impacted by having trains barreling down.

The people of the Rockaways are rightfully skeptical of the noise that airplanes from JFK make. The people living right next to the old tracks are rightfully skeptical of the noise that trains would make. Sending the LIRR to the Rockaways wouldn’t improve commutes for people living by the tracks that would be reactivated unless new stations were made (and that would drive up the costs of the project, and drive down the speeds of the trains).

I would like to know how many people would actually pay the premium to take the LIRR to Manhattan. It’s not just about having options, but about using them.

Bolwerk March 22, 2013 - 2:28 pm

With the right equipment and maintenance noise is pretty much a non-issue.

David C March 22, 2013 - 7:54 pm

I can attest to noise being a non-issue. I lived with the LIRR in my back yard (in Rego Park not far from Whitepot Junction) for many years and the LIRR has made tremendous strides in reducing the noise of the trains, and that’s with 4 tracks. I can remember when the whole house would shake at rush hour. Now, you can hardly hear the trains.

Will there be more noise than no trains: yes. Will it be on par with the noise some of the 100 year old elevated structures make? not even close.

g March 22, 2013 - 2:59 pm

Why would they reactivate the line and not put any stations on it? Probably looking at 6-7 reopened stations on the line including Aqueduct.

Someone March 22, 2013 - 3:16 pm

It’s cheaper, faster, and allows for a JFK Express reactivation.

g March 22, 2013 - 3:31 pm

It would be relatively simple to put in some crossovers and schedule overtakes without creating conflicts even during rush.

Someone March 22, 2013 - 4:25 pm

True, but then the stations would have to be really simplistic, since the MTA can’t afford to have grandiose stations.

Someone March 22, 2013 - 3:23 pm

I think, Bolwerk said before, that train noise can be effectively lowered to 0 db.

AlexB March 22, 2013 - 4:04 pm

Of course they have to build new stations, that’s the whole point. Those stations could cut tens of minutes off a one way commute to midtown, providing obvious benefits to people in the neighborhood.

Alex C March 22, 2013 - 5:07 pm

First, I love the “trains barreling down” comment. THE HORROR. For the record, modern railways built on ballast are rather quiet. A quick Google search would reveal to you locations of stations that once were active along this line. It won’t be a straight shot from JFK to Queens Boulevard.

llqbtt March 22, 2013 - 2:35 pm

The 6 year old clearly has more sense than all the adults on the block!

marv March 22, 2013 - 3:16 pm

The Belt Parkway corridor between Brookville Blvd and The Rockaway Beach line is sufficiently wide to accomodate the extension of two LIRR tracks from Valley Stream to and on to the Rockaway Beach Line. This would then:

*allows one the sets of tracks from valley stream to jamaica to be converted to subway (“e” train) use without major construction expense thus providing long desired subway service to southeast Queens removing congestion and inefficient buses from Jamaica
*relieves(by passes) some LIRR congestion at Jamaica
*ensures sufficient traffic on the Rockaway Beach Branch to justify its reactivation
*provide a desirable transfer for Rockaway users into Penn Station and Grand Central
*provide a possible route for bi-mode air trains into Grand Central and/or Jamaica using minimal mainline trackage.
*could allow building of one or more LIRR stations along the Conduit corridor thus allowing building in an area ripe for development (a station near the van wyck would put the JFK airport hotels but a 20 minute jump from midtown east and west!)

Someone March 22, 2013 - 3:17 pm

Apparently, the 6-year old is probably going to be a future MTA conductor on this line.

He has more common sense than all the other people, actually. 😉

Andrew March 22, 2013 - 6:03 pm

That’s good news that it’s being studied, but I’m highly skeptical that it makes sense to reactivate it as a rail line. At the south end is a narrow peninsula with some of the lowest ridership stations in the system. At the north end, it would connect with either the LIRR or the Queens Blvd. IND, both of which are plenty crowded already. So there are two big strikes against it.

Benjamin Kabak March 22, 2013 - 6:09 pm

If it doesn’t make sense, it doesn’t make sense, and we can go home with the knowledge that rail was given its fair share. Someone would have to present a pretty convincing argument against rail though for it to not make sense ultimately, no?

Andrew March 22, 2013 - 6:13 pm

It’s a cost-benefit question. I highly doubt the benefit even comes close to the cost. I’d love to see it reopen as a rail line, but I just don’t see it happening.

Toby Sheppard Bloch March 22, 2013 - 6:23 pm

I live nearby and would prefer rail as I’m near a likely stop and would greatly benefit from better access to transit. But I don’t see it happening, and see this rumored effort as subterfuge on behalf of those who would do nothing with this public space.

I think the density of Ozone Park, Woodhaven, and Richmond Hill has increased since the line was shut down, so there might be new demand outside of the Rockaways.

D.R. Graham March 22, 2013 - 8:18 pm

Tell some of those NIMBY’s how their property values are likely to increase as a result of the line and they will start getting on board.

John Paul N. March 24, 2013 - 9:23 am

Except when they believe what they want to believe. (See my linked article below.) If they are proven wrong and property values do rise, they will cash out (e.g. move out) easier. And if they don’t want to move out, then good luck, you’ve got the land value you want.

Neil C Giannelli April 9, 2013 - 8:50 pm

Property values will increase for commercial real estate. Private homes within 200 yards of the project will decline in value, opening the door to blockbusting and construction of more luxury condominiums. I refer you to the Reed College study (2003) undertaken on behalf of the City of Portland, Oregon. All the reports that claim property values will increase if a bike path or rail line is constructed, bury the Reed College study in a footnote. “There is some evidence to suggest that not all property increases in blah-blah-blah…” Beware of the conventional wisdom and the blather of pundits. Never take their word for it.

Bolwerk March 22, 2013 - 7:31 pm

I don’t know about how many additional trains can be run, if any, but it looks to me that the peak hour load crossing 53rd Street and 63rd Street is averages around 1100/train, so there is probably some capacity for a passenger connection at the very least.

Someone March 22, 2013 - 10:52 pm

How many trains per hour? I’m guessing that during peak hours, the tunnels combined handle a total of 40 tph per direction.

Bolwerk March 23, 2013 - 3:58 am

Probably about right. Maybe if you take the time to parse this document you can get a better answer.

The problem with what I posted is those are numbers for express and local and don’t consider the local R. Getting Rockaway to service local and express trains alike could be an expensive difficulty.

Andrew March 24, 2013 - 7:45 pm

The express tracks are full. E trains are nearly full. F trains have a bit of room to spare but are still quite crowded, and those loads will probably continue to grow.

There is room on the local tracks, but the Manhattan trunks are basically full. Extra locals could run down the G, but that isn’t where of the potential ridership wants to go. Or they could run down SAS once the southern section is built. But if the goal is faster access to Manhattan, the Queens Blvd. local isn’t going to help.

Bolwerk March 25, 2013 - 12:05 am

Fair enough, but it’s not a Queens Blvd.-only project. It would have benefits for two other existing lines, on top of whatever transfers can be allowed for Queens Blvd.. And then, nothing precludes future expansion you mention.

jsbertam March 22, 2013 - 10:12 pm

the simplest way to get people ‘on board’ (pun intended) is to have some billboards at the old station locations stating “LIRR trains from here will get you to midtown in under 40 minutes” with a pro-rail URL for more info

For many, the time saved commuting trumps any other arguments against re-activating the line.

Frank B March 23, 2013 - 11:01 am

I don’t know why everyone has this crazy notion that this is going to be a LIRR line again, or that the City of New York would spend hundreds of millions of dollars just to shorten the length of a trip to Kennedy Airport and for this reason alone.

The Rockaway Line is IND now. It’s been for years. There’s bell-mouths after 63rd Drive that exist for the sole purpose of bringing the IND to these tracks. There are no LIRR tracks or stations with LIRR Loading Gauge below Ozone Park. How on earth do you think the trains will get there? It needs to be a subway line connecting to the Queens Boulevard Line; Southeast Queens, including The Rockaways, deserves to be connected to the rest of the borough!

As a native son of Queens, I’m not for the QueensWay in any way. I think the idea is total rubbish. I thought that the High Line was total rubbish as well; 7 Train extended along the High Line, all the way to the West Village; the Far West Side would’ve exploded in population and actually would’ve had decent transit. I like the high line; it’s nice and everything. But there was a right of way sitting there and an area 3 avenues from a subway station.

I like the idea of more parks; its just that using the ROW for the IND Rockaway Line will ultimately be far more useful.

JMB March 23, 2013 - 7:48 pm

Well said, I agree on all points.

John Paul N. March 24, 2013 - 8:54 am

Thanks for bringing this up. The inter-Queens connectivity has rarely been pointed out in discussions, but it needs to be emphasized as one of the major benefits.

AG March 24, 2013 - 4:20 pm

I mostly agree… except the High Line is built with many tens of millions of private money… which wouldn’t happen in QueensWay.

Also – the High Line was an elevated freight line – not passenger… and even it was… there is no appetite for elevated lines in Manhattan (hasn’t been for decades).

Last – the High Line itself has helped cause that part of Manhattan to explode in population (residents and tourists) and in the value of properties. It would be great if the #7 went that far down (underground)… maybe one day… but there is no money for that (not even for the station at 41st and 10th).

John-2 March 23, 2013 - 5:49 pm

Barring the Aqueduct casino option — where you have some heavy-hitters with financial backing who have a vested interest in shortening travel time from Manhattan to Ozone Park — odds are the reactivation by the LIRR or connecting it up to the Queens Blvd. IND line isn’t likely to fly.

Getting passengers a one-seat ride to JFK is likely to run afoul of the Port Authority’s desire to have no competition for Airtrain (they had to be dragged kicking and screaming into building that, and they and the airlines aren’t going to want the dollars they put into it thrown out by running an LIRR line there). And as noted above, there’s not enough population density in South-Central Queens to justify the expense, let alone the added costs of several years of NIMBY court battles. Designate the area for full casino gambling and then you’ve got a finanical incentive to move the politicians; without it, there’s nothing it in for them or the others who would potentially make more money if they could cut travel time by 50 percent to Ozone Park.

Ron March 23, 2013 - 10:52 pm

press conference with Congressmen Jefferies and Meeks to support the revitalization the Rockaway Beach Rail Line this Sunday, March 24th at 2pm. We will stand in front of the abandoned Rockaway Beach Rail Line at 99th Street and Liberty Avenue in Ozone Park.

We would be delighted if you could attend and show your support!

Ryan March 24, 2013 - 8:53 am

I could definitely show support…

Bolwerk March 25, 2013 - 12:07 am

More expansive PR next time! I didn’t read about this until it was done.

Bolwerk March 25, 2013 - 12:07 am

For that matter, how was it?

John Paul N. March 24, 2013 - 8:48 am

Ben, in your post earlier this week, you said “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” I don’t know how committed you were to that statement, but I don’t see how you consider Neil Giannelli to be your ally. If you want more insights into literal NIMBYism, he had an opinion piece published in the Times Newsweekly. He cares about the neighborhood, certainly, but he seems to care more in maintaining that “The people of 98th Street love their block, one of the loveliest in Woodhaven, the way it is.” (98th Street is next to the rail line.) Mr. Giannelli is going to fight against development that will bring in more strangers to that area, similar to what that gentleman did against the Atlantic Yard development, and we’ve seen how that turned out.

I hope the Congressmen will say that intermediate stations are essential for the success of the reactivated line. Otherwise, like Jerrold said, the bypassed neighborhoods will just put up a strnger NIMBY reaction.

Ryan March 24, 2013 - 8:52 am

The enemy of my enemy is my friend…

For now, Ben said. Both Ben and Neil Gianelli are against Queensway, for now. The only problem with that is that while Ben is pro-rail, Gianneli is against rail.

John Paul N. March 24, 2013 - 9:34 am

And Ben, rightly so, wants funding (at least) for the rail reactivation study because a Queensway study will be getting funding, while Giannelli thinks both are a misuse of funds in all ways. I would have thought they would be ideologically far apart.

Here’s another thing I thought odd, in the same vein (source):

Speaking about the debate over the Rockaway Beach line, Assemblyman Mike Miller stated that he previously expressed his support of reactivating rail service south of Atlantic Avenue, where the line links up with the Flatbush Terminal branch.

He also commended the launch of the “No Way Queens Way” group by Woodhaven resident Neil Giannelli. He stated that the activist has taken “a good approach” to the situation, adding that residents should support him.

Playing both sides of the aisle?

Ryan March 24, 2013 - 2:55 pm

What do you mean?

Ron March 24, 2013 - 8:54 am

Press conference to support Rockaway Beach Rail Line TODAY, Sunday,March 24th at 2pm. 99th Street and Liberty Ave. in Ozone Park. Please join us!

AG March 24, 2013 - 4:21 pm

Finally – some ppl willing to talk sensibly!

Larry Littlefield March 24, 2013 - 4:32 pm

Hooking into the subway would be difficult and expensive, but it’s otherwise the best idea I have heard.

In addition to giving Rockaway, Ozone Park, Richmond Hill and Woodhaven riders a choice of trains to Midtown or Downtown, it would also give people in Midtown, Downtown and Western Queens access to JFK Airport and the Rockaway beaches.

Finally, with (say) the M diverted to the new line, the terminal capacity problem and 71st Street would be solved, and the G could return to the QB line.

Ryan March 24, 2013 - 6:37 pm

Still, the junctions at 63rd Road and Queens Plaza… could still be a problem in some way.

Ed March 25, 2013 - 8:33 am

“Supporters also argue that the rail line would help spur development in an area that was devastated by Hurricane Sandy.”

I’m for this line but doing it to spur development in Sandy damaged areas sounds crazy. Rebuilding just so it can be destroyed again next time?


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