Home Queens MTA to study transportation options for Rockaway Beach Branch, SI West Shore lines

MTA to study transportation options for Rockaway Beach Branch, SI West Shore lines

by Benjamin Kabak

Following last week’s budget negotiations, the MTA has money to study transportation uses for Staten Island’s West Shore ROW. (Source: SIEDC)

As the dust from last week’s perfectly opaque New York state budget process continues to settle, we are learning more and more about what various neighborhoods are getting out of the plan, and so far the winner seems to be studies for future plans. Two contested corridors — Queens’ Rockaway Beach Branch line and Staten Island’s West Shore line — will undergo MTA-led feasibility studies for reactivation plans that have been percolating for years. Both have been debated for years with one nearly falling victim to a rails-to-trails advocacy group that would generally foreclose the rail option for generations if not ever, and the money and commitment for feasibility studies are victories for both corridors.

We’ll start with the better known of the two, in Queens where neighborhood transit groups have been fighting with national parks advocates over the LIRR’s disused Rockaway Beach Branch Line. Connecting Queens Boulevard to the current IND Rockaway Line, the ROW has been subject to a tense debate over its future. Parks advocates want to turn it into a linear park on the model of the High Line while transit advocates in Queens and politicians in the Rockaways want to understand if rail reactivation is feasible and beneficial. Gov. Andrew Cuomo had funded a pro-parks study, and the rail contingent wanted their say too. Now they’ll get their chance (even as QueensWay proponents grumble loudly about the state’s spending its money to study rail use of its underutilized rail rights of way).

As Assembly representative Phil Goldfeder announced today, the MTA will now conduct a full transportation feasibility study for this right of way. The report, due by June 30, 2017, will assess not just heavy rail reactivation but other potential modes of transit as well, including, I assume, light rail and a busway. The MTA will also explore “issues identified with reactivation” which could ran the gamut from recalcitrant residents to the costs associated with restoring a right of way that can kindly be characterized as in disrepair.

Goldfeder had been instrumental in securing language in the Assembly’s budget draft focusing on this corridor, and he celebrated in turn. “For tens of thousands of Queens families forced to endure some of the longest commutes in the city, this announcement by the MTA is real progress,” he said in a statement. “A comprehensive study of the Queens Rail will give voice to our transit concerns and bring Queens one step closer to having the transportation infrastructure we need and deserve. I have no doubt that this study will prove once and for all that reactivation is the best and most cost-effective way to speed commute times for our families and boost our local economy. I applaud Chairman Prendergast and the MTA for their foresight in recognizing the value of this old right-of-way, and I look forward to working with them as they complete this study.”

Meanwhile, the Staten Island West Shore rail line, recently the source of some interborough sniping, will get a similar treatment. Unfortunately, as the Staten Island Advance’s coverage of the story indicates, this is viewed as a victory for Sen. Andrew Lanza, he of the patently absurd transit obstructionism, but we shouldn’t penalize New Yorkers for voting to send a clown to the Albany circus. Lanza used his power in the Senate to hold up the MTA’s capital plan until the agency agreed to fund an alternatives analysis study, and as the agency will do in Queens, the MTA will similarly study potential transit uses for this right of way.

“I, along with Sen. Lanza and so many of my colleagues in local and state government have advocated for a transit study of the West Shore corridor for many years and it gives me great pride to announce this commitment,” Assembly rep Michael Cusick said. “For far too long, Staten Islanders have suffered through heinous commutes which rank among the worst in the entire nation. This evaluation will provide us with a clear path forward toward alleviating this issue, and I am so proud of the real results we have obtained today.”

Proponents believe light rail could be initiated along the right of way for around $1.5 billion, but that plan is a few years down the road. Following the analysis the MTA plans to conduct over the next 14 months, the agency would need funding for an environmental impact statement and, of course, someone would have to pony up dollars for light rail. But at least in Queens and on Staten Island, two dormant rail corridors are getting the study and attention they deserve. We’ll find out next summer what, if anything, comes next.

You may also like


Peter L April 5, 2016 - 12:33 am

14 *years*? Is that a typo? WTF is the matter with NY?

Completely ridiculous, if accurate.

Peter L April 5, 2016 - 12:57 am

OK, so typo. PHEW!

Streater April 5, 2016 - 5:32 am

Where’s funding for the cross harbor freight tunnel? Our state needs to get it’s priorities straight.

Bolwerk April 5, 2016 - 9:04 am

Our dipshit governor didn’t think of it when he capitulated to bailing out his bro Christie’s tunnel extravagances.

eo April 5, 2016 - 9:20 am

I hate to pour cold water on you, but where are the hard numbers for the need for a freight tunnel?

The problem is that even if there are a lot of trucks on LI, they are not going to the same place carrying the same stuff. There is very little industry left on LI that receives any meaningful amount of coal/cement/grains/oil/other bulk commodities. Most of the inbound traffic is finished goods unloaded from ships and trash off the island. Both will be served better with sea ports. You cannot get the HomeDepot or Walmart rigs off the road because practically no store is next to a siding. Also they never receive enough of the same thing to need to get a full railroad car of it. Only lumber comes close, but a railroad car full of light bulbs? They may need 20 years to sell that stuff from a single store. You also cannot make them load the rigs on flat cars in NJ and then unload them somewhere in LI to be pulled by trucks to their final destinations — that is way too much extra labor and time delay.

Like it or not the best thing to do for LI and Manhattan in terms of traffic is to get the cars off the road by putting the people on transit and leave the trucks to go where they need to go.

Eric April 5, 2016 - 11:53 am

“Most of the inbound traffic is finished goods unloaded from ships and trash off the island. Both will be served better with sea ports.”

Where is there a port on Long Island?

AG April 5, 2016 - 3:59 pm

Brooklyn – but it is under utilized

adirondacker12800 April 5, 2016 - 12:01 pm

Home Depot sells a lot of construction material.


8 million people generate a lot of garbage. It’s even less time critical than construction material. Get a truck carrying stuff for Home Depot or garbage off the road there is space for a truck that can’t use rail.

eo April 5, 2016 - 1:58 pm

I think you might be missing the point: the contract in the link gets rid only of about half a truck trip (the portion from NJ to about mid-LI) — you still have to load this stuff and send it to the actual HomeDepot store. And before a piece of lumber ends on a house it still needs another trip from the store to the construction site.

How many cars of lumber and cement do you think HomeDepot would get per year? About 100 for the whole island would be my guess. Say you got lucky and you found stuff for another 10,000 cars per year. Now what, you want us to build say $2 billion tunnel(I am confident that that is an underestimate) for that many cars? If you charged $200 per car to use the tunnel(just the tunnel, not the approaches or the other facilities needed such as yards), your revenue is a measely $2 million per year. You will need a 1,000 years to pay the investment back even without any maintenance or interest. It does not work. The cost of the tunnel is too high relative to the ability to generate revenue and as illustrated above you do not remove enough of the traffic to justify subsidizing this thing by drivers or the general public.

adirondacker12800 April 5, 2016 - 2:16 pm

The accountants at Home Depot, who have cost figures, decided that rail makes more sense in some cases. Home Depot isn’t the only big box store on Long Island.

AG April 5, 2016 - 3:58 pm

This is also about New England – not just Long Island. That said there about 8 million people living on Long Island (yes I included BK and Queens). That is the population of a good amount of states like Virginia – North Carolina – Georgia that is crammed into a small space. In the interim the Port Authority is starting to use more floating rail cars between Jersey and Brooklyn. They plan to ramp it up – but it’s still not going to be enough. A freight tunnel will most certainly help ease future increase of truck traffic (as the population keeps growing) on the Verazzano and GWB as well as the notoriously backed up Cross Bronx Expressway. The people who have to breathe in all those toxins need relief too.

adirondacker12800 April 5, 2016 - 4:46 pm

… Some of the stuff getting unloaded from the PostPanaMax ships in New Jersey, goes to New England.

AG April 5, 2016 - 5:28 pm

The harbor isn’t ready for those ships just yet… In any event – that is correct. The idea being going by rail to the eastern portion of the harbor would speed up their travel and reduce congestion/pollution crossing the Hudson.

Eric April 5, 2016 - 5:32 pm

Would it be possible to also use the freight tunnel for passenger trains to provide a quick way out of Brooklyn? Or would that raise the tunnel cost due to extra safety measures for the passengers?

AG April 5, 2016 - 5:44 pm

I believe the answer is yes to your question. Not to mention when freight and passengers have to share rail – it usually is not optimal for anyone.

AG April 5, 2016 - 5:49 pm

Meaning yes as to why there won’t be a freight and passenger tunnel being shared.

AG April 5, 2016 - 6:05 pm

Well as others noted… It’s much more than just Home Depot. In terms of the payback – your calculations leave things out.


As the PA notes – congestion and environmental impacts most certainly have economic impacts. Neither will become lessened.

The NYC region as crowded as it is – just added 95k people last year. That was the fourth largest number in the nation – even though the others were in the sunbelt with thousands of acres of build-able land. Long story short – congestion will only get worse here.

imogen April 5, 2016 - 2:00 pm

if it’s not time-critical, we’re back to ports.

AG April 5, 2016 - 3:50 pm

That’s a Port Authority project. They are still studying it but I doubt that anything will happen before the preparation for the Panama Canal expansion (have to raise bridges and finish dredging).

Larry Littlefield April 5, 2016 - 10:21 am

Here we go. More studies of improvements, intended to distract attention from the fact that service is actually deteriorating.

I remember that era. It seemed like it might end, when the MTA actually started building East Side Access and the SAS.

But now it is back. The purpose is political and propaganda. It’s for the state legislators and city councilmembers that have already voted irrevocably to send money elsewhere (or their predecessors did) to seem like they care.

When the SAS hearings got started, I actually showed up and waited for a turn to speak. After all the politcos and insiders, and after the whole MTA Board had left save one for appearances. You know what I said? NO MORE STUDIES! I’m sick of it. Build something, or stop pretending you will.

That was 20 years ago.

Eric April 5, 2016 - 11:57 am

It’s too expensive to build anything. Planning a major project costs around $1 billion*, building it around $9 billion, and the $9 billion in funding isn’t available.

*Yes, in NYC it costs a billion dollars for some guys to sit around a table for a couple years and draw blueprints. See https://www.panynj.gov/bus-terminals/pdf/bus-board-3-19-15u-no-annotations.pdf

smarten April 5, 2016 - 12:01 pm

A question
in these right of way sections – was is feasablitiy to creating underground subway?

these idle sections of rail right of way should be easily cut and cover type of construction and
probably do not have buried pipes and electrical lines which seem to cause issues

you could put a subway line under these right of ways without losing the possible heavy rail use and without neighbors complaining about subway noise ..

Eric April 6, 2016 - 5:59 pm

These areas are near sea level, so a subway would have significant leakage and flooding risks.

Anyway, the density of the area is not enough to justify a subway.

Alon Levy April 5, 2016 - 12:38 pm

West Shore light rail, yes. Waterfront light rail, yes. Main Street, Fordham, Grand Concourse, and any other high-ridership route, lol no.

Benjamin Kabak April 5, 2016 - 12:41 pm

As I’ve written extensively (as you know), it’s a political problem. Get a Bronx politician — some of the weakest transit advocates in NYC for odd reasons — to fight for funding to study those lines and the money for studies will materialize. It’s not a secret!

Bolwerk April 5, 2016 - 1:12 pm

Well, the silver lining is at least they’re starting to consider LRT finally. Though West Shore LRT really might be the single most useless idea I’ve seen proposed. And, they’re considering it unironically against the backdrop of putting BRT on the North Shore? Even the BQX project at least has practically guaranteed ridership.

AG April 5, 2016 - 5:43 pm

Ben – in fairness to Bronx politicians (well as fair as you can be to any politician) – they have to spend much of their energy trying to correct and combat the social ills that befell almost half of the borough due to city policies from decades ago. (Ironically it’s kind of similar way to the transit system overall trying to claw back to the 20 years lost from the late 60’s to the 80’s.)

BP Diaz threw his weight behind getting new Metro North stations in the East Bronx. The Governor agreed. The Bronx gets much of the same treatment as Staten Island (for different reasons)… So that means the Bronx probably won’t be getting much right now. The only hope is Move NY happens and the Triboro RX gets funded (as per the law introduced).

Bronx Resident April 6, 2016 - 10:41 pm

The Bronx is getting funded to convert the Sheridan Expressway into a Blvd. A huge win for the borough actually.

We really need that SBS BX6 though ASAP and a couple more SBS routes.

And I would love for SAS phase 2 to extend into the Bronx at East 138th St/Third ave and East 149th St/Third Ave instead of E 125th St and Lexington. Would better reduce crowding issues on Lex.

AG April 6, 2016 - 11:15 pm

Really? the Sheridan conversion got officially funded? That’s great! Bp Diaz really does have a friend in Cuomo. This actually goes right along with what I was saying. The Bruckner should have always had ramps and the Sheridan should have never been a truck route. That’s one of the reasons The South Bronx has the highest rates of asthma.. Along with the Cross Bronx Expressway – which is also a great contributor.

But the SAS is a perfect example of what I mean. Both Manhattan and The Bronx had Els torn down. Now Manhattan is getting an underground replacement – but The Bronx is not. Strange given that The BRonx is about to reach and surpass it’s all time high population of 1.47 million – while Manhattan has 500k less than it’s previous peak.

Bronx Resident April 7, 2016 - 1:56 am

I was a bit misleading. The Sheridan is getting $97 million from the state.

A good chunk of what’s needed:


And I would just route the SAS north to E 138th and E 149th instead of turning it west on 125th St at this time. Would better reduce congestion.

AG April 7, 2016 - 3:06 pm

90 million is still great for the Sheridan conversion. Great for the neighborhoods around there. You have a cleaned up Bronx River (even Ospreys are seen hunting there again) and brand new parks all right there but they are so hard to get to because of the Sheridan.
I actually saw a news story after reading your last comment. It said money was also set aside to rehab the Brucker – with the ramps being further studied. Basically to me sounds like that is a go because we know they don’t want the Hunts Point Market to threaten to leave for NJ and take those 10,000 union pay scale jobs that support it with them.

As to SAS – that should be a no-brainer…

adirondacker12800 April 5, 2016 - 2:10 pm

Half of the west shore is parkland and will always be parkland. People who live there don’t have a burning desire to go to Bayonne.

aestrivex April 5, 2016 - 12:57 pm

“we shouldn’t penalize New Yorkers for voting to send a clown to the Albany circus.”

Well, the question is more like: should we stand in the way of them penalizing themselves?

AG April 5, 2016 - 5:38 pm

Worthy projects. As usual though – it will come down to the money.

Manuel April 5, 2016 - 9:00 pm

Trust me the feignt tunnel will pay for itself just look at the GWB Lincoln tunnel and the holland I am pretty sure they bringing in serious cash why you think working for the PA is a sweet JOB make the F up the money is coming in…

Larry Littlefield April 6, 2016 - 9:46 am

The railroad industry is an oligopoly. They won’t use a rail tunnel unless it is free, along with the yards needed to unload the cargo.

Tower18 April 6, 2016 - 10:03 am

Well I don’t know about that. If we assume the freight tunnel is needed (setting aside previous debate), this is tonnage not currently being carried by the railroads, because they cannot. Perhaps they would pay to use a tunnel that gave them the ability to carry this tonnage into NY and LI.

AG April 6, 2016 - 5:32 pm

And New England – which is why the Feds are inquiring and would involved in the potential scoping (like Gateway)

geep9 April 6, 2016 - 2:15 am Reply

Leave a Comment