Home Asides Another Queens CB votes for rail over QueensWay

Another Queens CB votes for rail over QueensWay

by Benjamin Kabak

The fight over the future of the Rockaway Beach Branch right-of-way is raising interesting questions about local decision-making in the context of the overall shape of New York City as a third Queens Community Board has rejected the QueensWay park plan in favor of the restoration of rail service. As the Queens Chronicle reported last week, CB5 — whose area encompasses an oft-congested stretch of Woodhaven Boulevard — voted 36-2 for the rail option. So far, CB 10 and CB 14 have voiced a preference for transit while only CB 9, whose leaders and members make up the Friends of the QueensWay organization, has supported the park plan.

Community Board 5 leaders spoke of the need to focus on mass transit as a way to solve the area’s traffic and accessibility issues. “Woodhaven Boulevard is just overwhelmed. We need relief and the only way to relieve traffic is with public transportation,” CB 5 Chair Vincent Arcuri said. “The people in the Rockaways have been clamoring for public transportation better than what they currently have for years. That A train is like going on a safari.”

Andrea Crawford, who heads both Friends of the QueensWay and CB 9, told the Chronicle that CB 5’s vote was “ridiculous.” She said, “This is a right of way that has absolutely no infrastructure and is deteriorating. The bridges would have to be rebuilt to carry modern train equipment. A rail line would help traffic in what, 20 or 30 years when it’s reactivated?”

The issue though isn’t focusing on “helping traffic.” It’s about a forward-looking approach to transit development and urban growth while encouraging sustainability throughout Queens. As I mentioned, too, this war of words showcases how hyperlocal planning is flawed. Just because most of the right of way runs through CB 9 doesn’t mean they should have the final say or even more of one over land use. The space should not be turned into a park until every other avenue of development is exhausted first, and that’s what’s best for the city.

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Brandon December 23, 2013 - 3:19 pm

Is there room for more trains/passengers on the Queens Boulevard line, even with CBTC? It seems like everyone in favor of extensions and branches in Queens never talk about trunk capacity.

Steve S. December 23, 2013 - 3:52 pm

There is certainly room at the Atlantic Terminal or Long Island City, though, so reviving it as an LIRR branch wouldn’t be too far-fetched if the capacity isn’t there for good LOS on the subway trunks.

John-2 December 23, 2013 - 4:50 pm

It depends on how you split the line — neither the E nor the F are going to Howard Beach if the line is reactivated, so that leaves the M and the R, both of which have the option to add more trains on the Queens Blvd. local tracks.

An R to Howard Beach would leave 67th Avenue served by only the M, but that might be offset a bit if the revived line had a station at Metropolitan Ave. just east of Woodhaven Blvd. Wouldn’t do anything for 67th Avenue customers coming to the station from north of Queens Blvd., but compared to the CB 9 train NIMBYs and the overall BANANAs (“Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything“) who oppose the train and the QueensWay, that’s probably the least of the problems of getting the Rockaway Line revived.

David Brown December 23, 2013 - 8:23 pm

John-2 The (M) Station at Metropolitan Avenue is WEST of Woodhaven Blvd.

John-2 December 23, 2013 - 10:50 pm

No I’m talking about a new stop that would be Metropolitan Avenue on the old LIRR branch. That stop would be east of Woodhaven (and because of the M’s already-existing Metropolitan Avenue stop, it would make things easier if the R and not the M went to Howard Beach).

anon December 23, 2013 - 11:56 pm

M on metropolitan is 1.7 miles from rockaway branch on metropolitan. Too far to walk, not many people bike, and metro isn’t a good street to bike on. The bus, the Q54 I think runs slow and infrequently. What does the M on metro have to do with anything here again?

John-2 December 24, 2013 - 1:11 am

The M’s Metropolitan Avenue terminal has nothing to do with it — in fact, odds are if the Rockaway Line revival happened the M would maintain its current route from Metropolitan-67th Street to 71st-Continental.

It’s the R that would change, hearing south on the Rockaway Line, where the first stop after 63rd Drive would likely be Metropolitan Avenue, where the line’s overpass currently is located, just to the east of Woodhaven Blvd.

Mike December 24, 2013 - 2:43 pm

I think the M is the better option because it’s a shorter route with fewer stops than the R and because it has a straighter path through midtown Manhattan. Yes, there would be two M train stops at Metropolitan Ave not far from each other, but any confusion between the two stations can be remedied by calling the new stop Glendale or Forest Park, or something like that.

Bolwerk December 23, 2013 - 5:04 pm

Probably not.

I don’t see why it matters, actually, at least not at first. It can be perfectly useful as a “shuttle” between Queens Blvd and the Rockaways if a transfer can be accommodated. Finding a way to get it to Manhattan should really be Phase II.

Transit doesn’t need to go to Manhattan to be useful.

Cap'n Transit December 23, 2013 - 5:17 pm

John, as Capt. Subway wrote, the reason the G currently terminates at Court Square is because the MTA staff is uncomfortable turning so many trains at Forest Hills. If the R went to Howard Beach (or beyond), the G could be re-extended to Continental.

Mike December 24, 2013 - 12:07 pm

A separate platform would have to be constructed to permit extended shuttle trains to terminate at Queens Blvd, whether at 63rd Drive or Woodhaven Blvd. That would require more new tunneling than what would be needed to connect the Rockaway line into the existing Queens Blvd subway. So you might as well get it to Manhattan in the first place.

Bolwerk December 24, 2013 - 12:53 pm

Or a nearby temporary platform and an out of system transfer combined with a walk of a few blocks. In any case, tunneling a new station is cheaper than building the super-express to Manhattan.

Avi December 23, 2013 - 3:36 pm

Would this be an LIRR spur or subway? I’m all for increased transit options, but I haven’t seen a map or details on how this would be re-integrated into the NYC system.

Steve S. December 23, 2013 - 3:55 pm

The line in question is a former LIRR branch, splitting off at Rego Park and running down to the Rockaways. The southern part is used by the A train; the northern part is abandoned. To connect the line with the subway would require a short tunnel from the old RR junction to Queens Boulevard; a reactivation of the line as an LIRR branch could be done within the historic ROW (for obvious reasons).

Bolwerk December 23, 2013 - 5:06 pm

Pretty sure the IND already took extensive measures to provision for a connection.

Frank B December 24, 2013 - 12:57 am

Indeed. Mothballed bellmouths after 63rd Drive-Rego Park.

Peter December 23, 2013 - 5:50 pm

Brandon’s point is right on. Both the Queens Blvd lines and the LIRR mainline are basically at capacity. Even with East-Side access, capacity will not expand greatly because LIRR has already indicated they have plans for what added capacity is created. And running the train to just Atlantic terminal or Long Island City wouldn’t accomplish the stated goal (which really is based on a flawed assumption) of providing a 30 minute midtown commute. And to make it a subway would require tunneling under Rego Park which would add a couple billion to the price tag. (and no Bolwerk, the IND did not take extensive measures to provide for a conenction other than create a couple shallow bell-mouths off the main tunnel – still leaves a good 1/2-3/4 mile of tunneling.)

Trains are great and necessary. But this wishlist item is always discussed in a vacuum. It is never discussed in context and compared against other wishlist transportation items that are also out there, or how it would actually interact with existing lines and depots and how much actual service could be provided – 1 train an hour isn’t providing what you need. There is a sense that if we just preserve the ROW and keep our fingers crossed a train will eventually appear. MTA has no intention of using this ROW. They don’t. If they did I’d have to seriously reconsider where my support goes, but they don’t.

And for what its worth, CB5 made their vote without ever speaking with Friends of The QueensWay to find out the true dimensions of the project and how it does provide increased transportation options over the status quo – granted nowhere near what a train would provide, but since that is not happening and MTA is instead doing SBS on Woodhaven, a bikeway becomes a meaningful addition to the mix [and it is true door-to-door transportation]. Also, what CB5 needs is busses. The whole conversation started with a discussion on the need for more buses to get workers to and from the Maspeth Industrial Zone – which is on the far western side of the district from the ROW. So why CB5 didn’t really do any fact gathering and then voted to support a project that would pull money from bus procurement and staffing really is a bit odd.

And while CB6 has not supported the QueensWay, they have flat out opposed a train. So as far as CB’s actually on the ROW, its 2-1 against the train. And I am not even saying that is right or wrong, I am just saying it is another in a whole laundry list of obstacles to overcome. Hence, I’ll support a park and bikeway and get what I can.

Benjamin Kabak December 23, 2013 - 5:52 pm

Again, tunneling doesn’t add billions to the plan. Tunneling is actually the cheapest parts of the construction projects. It’s auxiliary structures that come with underground station work which are largely mitigated by at-grade/above-ground ROWs as is the case. If there are no new underground stations added, the cost for rail would not be nearly as high as you expect.

Peter December 23, 2013 - 5:57 pm

I’m not talking billions and billions, but you can’t honestly tell me that it won’t add at least another billion, with predictable cost overruns and delays, and unexpected engineering issues not capable of adding another billion. And that is just the tunneling. The ROW needs to be extensively rebuilt to support train service. “Reactivation” is a complete misnomer. You will have to rebuild the embankments even before you start building actual rail infrastructure, missing trestle’s etc. Anyway, I’m not saying it would be the most expensive rail project out there – of course not, but the idea that this line could be cheaply and quickly “Reactivated” is a complete fantasy. And in the context of the many other MTA capital projects on the boards, isn’t happening.

Benjamin Kabak December 23, 2013 - 6:00 pm

Peter, this is fantasyland. “Just tunneling” won’t add billions in the cost. The entire tunneling contract for all 2.5 miles for Second Ave. was $337 million. In this hypothetical world we’re construction, it won’t cost nearly as much to tunnel out through the IND bellmouth.

Peter December 23, 2013 - 6:12 pm

Actually that was for only a mile and half, doesn’t include any track or other infrastructure or emergency evacuation shafts, etc., doesn’t include the site prep contract to actually provide access to the tunneling contractor and is a 2007 number. So maybe the second billion is tipping it too high, but the first doesn’t sound so far off. In any event, the point is being missed: this idea does not exist in a vacuum. Once MTA goes forward with a Woodhaven SBS, and given that it has a bevy of other capital projects already on the board, and actually discussed at length in its 20 year plan, what is the basis to believe that this train line will ever be built? What is the justification for telling these neighborhoods that they must suffer through another 20, 30, 50+ years of abandoned, decaying land (with cost to build a line only going up, and encroachment only becoming a bigger problem), because, maybe, someday, perhaps, a train will be built?

Bolwerk December 23, 2013 - 6:45 pm

There’s no comparison to SAS. Tracks should run under $10M/mile (even NJT managed $6M/mile on the non-electrified Lackawanna rebuild). Whatever this project costs, the expensive part will be construction of stations and equipment acquisition. The challenge will be keeping the construction of stations simple and affordable.

This is a simple project that should be within the MTA’s or city’s competency to build. It doesn’t compete with SBS, and if anything complements it nicely.

capt subway December 23, 2013 - 6:47 pm

Actually, as I’d written here on numerous previous occasions, the Queens Blvd line is not presently running at fully designed capacity. Each of the four tracks is signaled for a maximum 30 trains per hour. In the present peak periods only the 2 express tracks are scheduled at the the design capacity of 30 TPH. The 2 local tracks, with both the “M” & “R” lines each on an average 6 minute peak headway are running at an average 20 trains per hour in the peaks. (That was the whole problem with the 63rd St line as finally completed – it did not increase train count on Queens Blvd by one single train. All it did was cut out the “G” and filled those slots with the “V”, now the “M”.) Thus current signaling leaves room for another 10 TPH on the local tracks, which, if actually added, would be a significant increase in service. However, as I’d also stated here earlier, it is the lack of adequate train turning capacity at 71/Continental (coupled with the NYCTA’s morbid obsession with On Time Performance – a bad standard with which to measure rapid transit/metro type service quality) that the additional trains are no run and why the the “G” train is currently turned at Court Sq, a totally crappy terminal which simply was no designed as such, with all passengers being forced to walk through a really long passageway to the “M” and, in the peaks, mostly crush loaded “E”.

The reactivation of the Rock Line, with a tie in to the Queens Blvd local tracks east (subway north) of 63rd Drive station – bellmouths already in place – would enable the “G” Line once again to run into central Queens, thus giving riders three (3) local services: “G”, “M” & “R”. One of these service would branch off to the Rock Line with the remaining two continuing to 71/Cont.

To say that revival of the Rock Line would cost billions is absurd. I’ve walked the ROW on a number of occasions. To be sure it would need significant work to put in back into order. But the lion’s share of the work has been done: ROW alignment, gradients designed for electric MU train operation, etc, etc. I’d venture to guess the overall cost would be a tenth of what constructing an entirely new line would cost. That seems like some really good bang for your buck.

D. Graham December 23, 2013 - 7:17 pm

The original idea was for the 63rd Street line to be apart of a super express with a new express tunnel being built under the existing QB line but of course ideas were cut back.

Graham December 23, 2013 - 8:45 pm

The bellmouths referred to are ones to the east of 63rd Drive – Rego Park station, that were built to provide for a line down Woodhaven Blvd, I say if the provision exists, do the study and see if it is viable. Parks are nice, but not to the exclusion of transport infrastructure.

capt subway December 23, 2013 - 10:18 pm

Absolutely Not! The bellmouths, situated roughly between 63rd De & 67th Ave were specifically meant for the connection to the LIRR Rockaway Line. There was never any proposed Woodhaven Blvd subway in the IND Second System or, for that matter, in any subsequent subway proposals by the NYCTA and/or MTA.

pete December 23, 2013 - 10:57 pm

So why was Woodhaven Blvd station built with provisions as an island platform with belmouths of its own?

capt subway December 23, 2013 - 11:02 pm

The bellmouths at both ends of Woodhaven Blvd station are, specifically, for possible conversion of that station to an express stop.

John-2 December 23, 2013 - 7:28 pm

The one caveat I’d say for the cost isn’t for the infrastructure along the line itself, but what else might be needed on the existing line.

Riders love their express runs, and the Rockaway Line would dump a lot of passengers out at Roosevelt Ave. transferring to and from express trains during the AM and PM rush, to go along with those already hooking up with the Flushing Line there. Any Rockaway Line reactivation might be best considered along with the long-discussed plan to convert Woodhaven Blvd to an express stop, which would shift the transfer away from Roosevelt.

capt subway December 23, 2013 - 7:44 pm

One would like to think that, with local service increased by fully a third (that much more elbow room and, indeed, available seating), more passengers would see the wisdom of staying put on the local trains.

BTW I don’t see why so many here keep dismissing revival of a defunct rail line as being too costly and/or impractical. Look around the USA: Metro rail expansion has often been done making good use of defunct rail lines, to wit: the L.A. Blue, Gold & Expo lines all run extensively over abandoned rail lines, ditto St Louis MetroLink, ditto, right across the Hudson, the Hudson/Bergen Line for much of its length also uses abandoned railroad ROWs. Obviously this is the way to go, as it reduces overall construction costs significantly.

anon December 23, 2013 - 11:59 pm

Would local service only be able to increase by 1/3? Couldn’t this get service on the local tracks to 30tph, increasing from 20tph now? So 1/2 not 1/3?

capt subway December 24, 2013 - 12:25 am

Yeah you’re right. Excuse me please. Anyhow, you go from 20 TPH to 30 TPH on the local tracks, a substantial increase.

anon December 24, 2013 - 12:35 pm

Was wondering if there was a reason that it would only be 1/3. Had remembered reading a number less than 30 before. Your post (I believe) on capt transits blog about this a year or two ago. Mentioned 27.5 tph. Looked it over again. That number is based on current schedules it says. So if the G can handle more trains on the rest of the line then this could get bumped up to 30. Hadn’t meant to seem pedantic.

capt subway December 24, 2013 - 3:08 pm

I remember the 27.5 peak TPH. As I recall that was based upon the currently scheduled average peak headways of the combined G, M & R lines. Signal design track capacity is 30 TPH.

Alex C December 23, 2013 - 10:01 pm

You know, starting your discussion with zero honesty doesn’t help. The tunnel digging to the IND is minimal, and the rest is open ROW. The restoration work and prices would be a fraction of the 2 Ave project. I know the rest of Queens is really irrelevant to you, but a rail line would help lots of people get to work and generally help reduce traffic by giving people alternate options. A park (GOING THROUGH ANOTHER DAMN PARK) would be a novelty for you and friends of queensway, nothing more. Thanks for being part of the problem with this city’s resistance to transit expansion.

capt subway December 24, 2013 - 12:29 am

This is essentially why I no longer support the initiatives of the TA Queens Committee. They talk the talk about better transit, etc, etc. But, bottom line – it’s all about bicycles. And, while I believe bicycles should play a part in a balanced transportation picture, this is not the place to do it. What a terrible waste of good heavy rail infrastructure the Rock Line Greenway would be.

Bolwerk December 24, 2013 - 1:08 pm

It may be fair to say Transportation Alternatives has for the most part dropped all pretense of being concerned with most transportation alternatives.

Alon Levy December 24, 2013 - 2:02 am

The LIRR Main Line isn’t at capacity either, even without ESA. Judging by what the Hudson tunnels do, the maximum capacity for the East River Tunnels is 50 tph. The actual traffic is about 40 tph.

anon December 24, 2013 - 2:08 pm

Is there more room in penn station during peak? If not, off peak only LIRR north of Liberty wouldn’t offer much. So you’re waiting for ESA. 2019 hopefully? And even then, how many extra slots will there be? Will north of liberty carry enough trains to be worth running to Manhattan over more crowded trains out of nassau and suffolk? If you stop at hunters point or LIC would there be much demand if you’re forcing a transfer? If they just want the 7 or a ferry it might be fine I guess. But if they need to transfer again after that it might be a tough commute.

I’m assuming it would be too difficult to run LIRR on the same tracks as the A. Is that the case?

capt subway December 24, 2013 - 3:14 pm

But Penn Station is at capacity during the peaks. That’s the whole problem, same as on Queens Blvd. You’re not at track capacity on QB but you are at terminal capacity. That’s why another terminal in Queens for Queens Blvd trains is needed.

With ESA the situation on the LIRR mainline will improve greatly. But the NIMBYs are already spoiling for a fight: you’re not putting MY train in GC!, etc, etc…..

Alon Levy December 25, 2013 - 4:05 am

Penn Station has 21 platform tracks and only 4 access tracks. Just because the LIRR and NJ Transit think there’s a capacity problem doesn’t mean there actually is one.

Mike December 24, 2013 - 12:22 pm

The Queens Blvd EXPRESS tracks are at capacity. Not the locals, and there is NO reason why the M or R train could not be extended down the Rockaway Line. In fact with one of the local trains terminating in a different place from the other, it might allow trains to enter, relay and leave 71st Ave faster.

And where are you getting 2-1 against a train from? CB 5 is in favor of it. CB 10 is in favor of it. CB 14 is in favor of it. That’s THREE community boards in favor of it. Not just one. And so what if two of them are not actually on the ROW? They may still have much to gain if the Rockaway Line is reused for subway trains.

alek December 23, 2013 - 8:38 pm


Off topic here. 2014 fastrack schedule posted:


alek December 23, 2013 - 8:38 pm

They are using the 2012 fastrack corridors again. Interesting

Roxie December 24, 2013 - 11:09 am

I like how they get more angry and vitriolic every time someone else opposes them.
“We think this would be better used as a rail route.” “YEAH WELL!!! PARK! OK! WE SAID SO! PARK.”


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