Walking along the wide gravel path that meandered like a vine connecting the ball fields of the Forest Hills Little League, Travis Terry, who lives in Forest Hills, pondered what was once there, and is adamant that it would never return, even if everyone wanted it.
“You can’t put a train back here,” he said. “It’s not possible.”
It is true that toward the very back of the baseball fields that line up along the old Rockaway Beach LIRR line, the embankment that once carried the tracks of the route into the junction with the Main Line at Rego Park is now reduced to little more than a cliff covered in poison ivy and overgrown trees and weeds. Look up from the very last field and you can see the windows of the lone apartment building on the tiny dead-end spur of Darmouth Street off Alderton Street as if it was right above you.
That there were ever four tracks carrying trains between Manhattan and the Rockaways here seems implausible, and supporters of a plan to turn the old right-of-way into a park similar to Manhattan’s High Line, supporters like Terry, say it is impossible to ever bring rail service back.
“You would have to get rid of all this,” Terry said. “There would be lawsuits, it would be tied up in courts for years. No, bringing back the train is impossible.”
Terry is the president of Friends of the QueensWay, a group dedicated to bringing the so-called QueensWay park to the former LIRR right-of-way between Rego Park and Ozone Park, which includes supporters like former Community Board 9 chairwoman Andrea Crawford.
Their plans are well-financed, well-organized and somewhat advanced. It’s backed by The Trust for Public Land, a California-based developer of urban parkland that has on its staff former city Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe. Gov. Cuomo provided nearly half a million dollars in support of a QueensWay study that kicked off last August.
But they are up against hardened opposition, from residents, mainly in Woodhaven, who live along the old rail line and want it left alone, and from supporters of restoring rail service, mainly concentrated in South Queens, who have big backers of their own.
Nevertheless, Friends of the QueensWay believe that theirs is the winning idea, and the ongoing debate only serves to certify that.
“It’s this or nothing,” Crawford said. “We’ve been down this road with the train before and it’s not going to happen.”
She was alluding to studies done in the 1990s that reject the viability of reactivating rail service on the line, which shut down for good in 1962. Supporters of the rail line, however, say things have changed since and a new study that looks at all the options is currently underway, conducted by Queens College.
Crawford, who lives in Kew Gardens, said despite opposition from residents on 98th Street in Woodhaven, she has found a lot of backers in South Queens.
“It’s a small number of people on one block,” she declared. “There is a lot of support for this down there.”
Ruben Ramales, a member of Friends of the QueensWay, who lives in Woodhaven said he believes the park idea has a lot of support in his neck of the wood.
“The more we talk about it, the more people are interested in it,” he said. “They have concerns, but there’s not the level of opposition down there that has been portrayed.”
Crawford said the plan for the QueensWay is not new. It was explored first about seven years ago when Crawford was involved with several others, but that group fizzled out.
The plan emerged again with the creation of the Friends of the QueensWay and Terry, who had recently moved to Forest Hills, also got involved. Terry said he found out about the idea after looking for places for his daughter to play.
Crawford said the idea gained steam because of people like Terry who wanted more parkland.
“Many of these neighborhoods don’t have parkland and don’t have safe connections to a park like Forest Park,” she said. “This would fill in that void.”
Terry said he was not concerned about opposition or the rival plan to reactivate the train.
“We think this is the best use for this,” Terry said. “As people learn more about it and get involved, I think they will think it too.”