In a report released last week, state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli said the Metropolitan Transit Authority listed the reactivation of the Rockaway Beach LIRR is not only feasible, but a good investment for the financially-shaky agency
The document alleged that the MTA has not restored the entire transit system to a state of good repair because it has not received all the funding it has sought and because cost overruns on large capital projects siphoned off resources that could have been used to modernize the system. In it, DiNapoli says restoring the route would cut down on costs of transporting residents in South Queens and the Rockaways and spur development in the area.
“The MTA has stated that given the fiscal constraints of the current economy, it will need to respond with new strategies to boost capacity and accessibility, and which are more strategic in scale and location and are accomplished within customers’ commuting lifetimes,” the state comptroller said in the report. “Potential new strategies include rebuilding constrained subway junctions and terminals, expanding station stairways and platforms, and converting available rights-of-way. The MTA cites the former LIRR Rockaway Beach Branch as an example of this approach. Restoring service on the Rockaway Beach Branch would be a less costly way to speed commutes between South Queens and Manhattan, improve travel within the borough, and promote economic growth.”
The rail line, which was abandoned in 1962, would connect the Rockaways to the LIRR Main Line into Penn Station at Rego Park. Longtime residents of South Queens and the Rockaways say before it stopped running, commute times to Penn Station were less than 20 minutes from Howard Beach and 40 minutes from Rockaway Park. A trip on the A train to 34th Street-Penn Station could take three times as long.
Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Rockaway Park), a staunch supporter of reactivating the line, saw the report as a positive step toward the reality of restarting train service.
“This report is a huge step forward and I will continue to work closely with state Comptroller DiNapoli, my colleagues and the MTA until the Rockaway Beach Rail Line becomes a reality,” Goldfeder said. “I applaud State Comptroller DiNapoli for his tireless efforts to assist our Queens families and improve transit services.”
Phil McManus, a Rockaway resident and founder of the Queens Public Transit Committee, a group that has been advocating reactivation of the rail line, was also pleased with the report and urged construction of the line.
“Our city, state and federal governments need to invest in transportation for all the people,” he said. “Imagine the social, economic, recreational and environmental opportunities if we completely restored the Rockaway Beach Rail Line.”
Supporters say the rail line would also decrease traffic on Woodhaven Boulevard by providing residents not only in the Rockaways, but also along the boulevard’s corridor a quicker route to Northern Queens and Manhattan.
The Queens College Office of Community Studies is conducting a feasibility study on the potential community impacts of various proposed redevelopment options for the abandoned Rockaway Beach Branch line, including a competing plan to construct a linear park similar to Manhattan’s High Line along the length of the former rail line between Ozone Park and Rego Park. Called the QueensWay, the park plan is being spearheaded by The Trust for Public Land, a national urban parks advocacy and planning organization. The QueensWay plan is under evaluation and the state comptroller has recognized it.
“The Friends of the QueensWay and its thousands of supporters living and working in Central and southern Queens continue to believe that the QueensWay is the best and only way to maximize the quality of life and economic development benefits that will be realized when this property is adaptively reused for the community,” said Travis Terry, a member of the Friends of the QueensWay steering committee. “Studies by the MTA and Port Authority have conclusively shown that rail reactivation – estimated at a cost of over $7 billion – is not a feasible option and local elected officials have strongly opposed rail. In the Fall, we look forward to announcing the results of our study which will detail how conversion of this over 50-year abandoned property into a new public park and community amenity will have a tremendous positive impact on the people living, working and visiting the borough of Queens.”
Last December, DiNapoli issued a report on the economy recovery in Queens in which he listed the QueensWay as an example of “major economic development” that could affect the borough in the near future, alongside JetBlue’s new Long Island City headquarters, Willets Point, Flushing Commons and the Cornell Tech school planned for Roosevelt Island.