Despite the push to construct a linear park along the former Rockaway Beach rail line — and stiff opposition to anything being built there from some residents living alongside it — supporters of reactivating train service from Rego Park to Rockaway Beach still believe their idea is the best for Queens, and say it’s completely feasible.
It’s been 52 years since service stopped on the line between Rego Park and Ozone Park. South of there, the A train occupies the right of way into the Rockaways. Residents there say elimination of the service has left the peninsula stagnant for half a century.
“People complain about overdevelopment, but Rockaway is undeveloped,” said Phil McManus, a Rockaway resident and founder of the Queens Public Transit Committee, a group whose main focus is reactivation of the rail line, but also supports increased public transportation options across the borough.
McManus has organized a number of Rockaway residents, civic leaders and other rail supporters from South Queens to form the QPTC.
They argue the commute times for Rockaway and South Queens residents to jobs in Manhattan are too long, which takes time away from family, hobbies, volunteer work and even creates issues at work.
And despite the progress made toward the proposed QueensWay park, they insist their idea is real. It had the support of two South Queens members of Congress, Reps. Greg Meeks (D-Jamaica) and Hakeem Jeffries (D-Brooklyn, Queens), as well as Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Rockaway Park).
“If we want to improve Queens transportation and stimulate economic growth for future development of our borough, the complete rehabilitation and restoration of the abandoned Rockaway Beach Rail Line is our best option,” Goldfeder said.
Carol McEvoy joined QPTC because she has personal experience with long commutes. She has a part-time job in Manhattan and it takes her more than two hours to get there.
“When I had a full-time job, it was worse,” she said. “I had to drive because taking public transportation took too long.”
She noted that driving didn’t save much time because the traffic on Woodhaven and Cross Bay boulevards is often bad at rush hour, nor did it save much money because of the toll on the Cross Bay Veterans Memorial Bridge.
Support for the rail plan goes beyond the Rockaways. Hamilton Beach resident John Fazio, a member of Community Board 10, said restored train service would help his neighborhood, especially with a station there. Hamilton Beach had one before the 1950s.
“Back then, it took 18 minutes to get to Penn Station from Hamilton Beach,” Fazio said. “Now it takes over an hour.”
Some Rockaway residents even commute to Brooklyn by bus over the Marine Parkway Bridge to connect to the subway there because its quicker than taking the A train from the peninsula.
Vishnu Mahadeo, executive director of the Richmond Hill Economic Development Corp., said the rail would help his neighborhood and its working people.
“Richmond Hill residents also have long commutes,” he said. “A park is nice, but what we need is jobs and easy access to those jobs.”
He noted that besides taking a long time, the A train, the only subway line that serves South Richmond Hill, is overcrowded.
McManus said the line would not only help his community, but others across Queens. Besides a quicker commute to Manhattan, Rockaway residents would be connected to other Queens neighborhoods like Jamaica, Flushing, Long Island City and Bayside, with just one train transfer.
“It will be a boost for the entire borough,” McManus said.
Both he and Lew Simon, a Democratic district leader and former City Council candidate, said that developments on the right of way would be easy to reclaim.
“They’re squatting on the land,” Simon alleged. “They have no rights to it. The city can come anytime and force them to move.”
Nevertheless, he says he doesn’t have anything against the QueensWay and would like to see both plans happen.
“There is no reason why we can’t coexist,” Simon said. “We can have both a park and rail. It can be done. All we’re asking for is equal treatment.”