To revive what has been dead for over 50 years is never an easy proposition, but the Queens Public Transit Committee is determined to do just that with the Rockaway Beach Line of the Long Island Railroad, which went out of service in 1962.
On Saturday, at a rally a couple of blocks from a rail overpass that stands as a reminder of what once used to be, group member Philip McManus addressed a modest crowd that had gathered at the intersection of Woodhaven Boulevard and Metropolitan Avenue in an effort to call attention to the project.
“We support the reactivation of the unused Rockaway Beach Line,” he said. “It makes sense to reactivate this tremendous community asset to enhance Queens transit. We need more trains, buses and tracks. We need to expand the transit system for an expanding population.”
Among those offering support was transportation advocate Ronald Carroll, who said, “There’s no subway close to this spot. You have to go all the way down to Queens Boulevard,” several blocks away.
“All of Woodhaven would benefit,” he added.
During the early part of the 20th century, the line ran from Rego Park to Rockaway Beach, stopping at stations in Glendale, Woodhaven, Ozone Park, Howard Beach and Broad Channel. The last day for passengers on the line was June 8, 1962. Six years later, Carroll said, the MTA considered a plan to restore service, but the city was facing a fiscal crisis and the project was ultimately canceled.
As recently as 2001, the MTA suggested routing the proposed Air Train service to JFK Airport over the line. The proposal was approved by advocacy groups but area residents worried about rising noise levels and the negative effects it could have on the neighborhood’s aesthetics.
“It can be used in conjunction with the Air Train,” Carroll said. “It could be another route or option to the airport.”
McManus added that there is a need “to reduce air pollution, gas consumption, vehicle and pedestrian accidents and injuries. We need the best alternatives to relieve the current and future traffic delays and congestion to our transportation system.”
He suggested that the “RBL is the right public transit option to address this growing problem. This dedicated right of way will help alleviate the associated traffic problems on the Woodhaven Boulevard corridor and other corridors.
“It would also move more people more efficiently throughout Queens to midtown Manhattan. People would be able to connect to more subways, buses and the LIRR from Queens.”
He also believes that the RBL would “increase business, employment, economic development, property values, tax revenues and educational opportunities for many Queens communities.”
According to Carroll, the line would be “a boon to the whole area,” though he admitted that there is “a lot of work to be done.” He would like to see “the best plan at the most affordable cost.”
Carol McEvoy, a resident of Rockaway who attended the rally, said, “For the longest, longest, longest time the transportation system from Rockaway to Manhattan has been a big concern of mine.”
Working in Long Island City meant that McEvoy “was forced to take my car every day.” Now that she is semi-retired, she spends two hours each way getting to her part-time job on the Upper West Side.
Should the line reopen, she said, her daily commute would likely be cut in half. “I could probably do it in an hour, depending on how many stops” the train would make.
“By the time I get into the city to do anything, I’m too tired to do it,” she added.
McEvoy said the train would not just be helpful for commuters, but for others as well.
“There are a lot of retirees in Rockaway who would like to go to Manhattan to go to the theater. This would help,” she said.
The reactivation of the line has been supported by several elected officials, including Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Rockaway Park) and Reps. Hakeem Jeffries (D-Brooklyn, Queens) and Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica). The three jointly sent a letter in March to then-Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood in which they requested that a portion of the approved federal disaster Sandy recovery aid be allocated to fund the project.
There are those, however, who would prefer to see the weed-covered right of way transformed into a public greenway.
Friends of the QueensWay, a neighborhood advocacy group that supports the latter idea, is of the opinion that the creation of new park space is important to improve the quality of life for the affected areas. The group believes the green space would serve as a catalyst for the area’s economic development and prove beneficial to local small businesses, in addition to improving environmental conditions.
Community Board 9 is on record as being supportive of the greenway proposal.
No effort has been made to dismantle the railway hardware on the structure, currently owned by the city and known by some as “the forgotten spur.”
For years it has served as nothing more than a haunt for hikers, young people and the homeless.
But for Carroll, a resident of Long Beach, bringing it back to life could have a major effect.
“I might move to Rockaway if the train would come back,” he said.-