Federal fundraising for Rockaway rail line 1

A stretch of the Rockaway Beach Line, overgrown by trees.

Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato (D-Rockaway Park) is trying to bring some Biden infrastructure bucks to Central and South Queens to create a new rail line along an abandoned stretch of Long Island Rail Road tracks that would connect the Rockaways to western Queens and Manhattan.

Last week, the assemblywoman wrote a letter to federal Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, requesting funding to rebuild and restore the Rockaway Beach Rail Line, a section of railway between Ozone Park and Rego Park that has been out of commission since 1962.

Pheffer Amato is asking for funding for the project from the American Jobs Plan, the $2 trillion plan to improve infrastructure proposed by the Biden administration, which would set aside $85 billion for updating outdated public transportation.

“This transformative update to our transit system is much needed and long overdue,” Pheffer Amato said in a statement. “Rockaway has long been a transit desert, and our community deserves reliable and safe transportation. Restoring the RBRL would bring much-needed change to hundreds of thousands of people’s lives every day, and create thousands of jobs.”

The 130,000 estimated residents on the Rockaway peninsula are served by its one A train line, which takes about 1 hour and 10 minutes to get to Midtown, and one LIRR branch, which costs about four times as much as a subway fare to get to Manhattan at peak times.

A study that the MTA released in 2019 looked at the feasibility of reactivating the Rockaway Beach Branch for LIRR or subway use aimed at connecting commuters from Howard Beach to Midtown.

That report looked at reactivating a stretch of the line that would either connect the Howard Beach subway stop to the 63rd Drive Rego Park station serving the E, M and R lines or a LIRR line that would go from the vicinity of the Howard Beach subway line to a new Rego Park LIRR stop.

The project, which is on pause in its planning stages due to the pandemic, would cost billions in dollars. SYSTRA Engineering, which was commissioned by the MTA, estimated that it would cost $6.7 billion to reactivate the rail spur for the LIRR, and $8.1 billion to create a subway connector.

The study estimated that the LIRR option would transport riders between Howard Beach and Penn Station in around 25 minutes. As an extension of the Queens Boulevard subway line, the trip between Howard Beach and 34th Street-Herald Square would be about 45 minutes.

The transit plan is not the only one being proposed for the public space, though. For years, a conservation group has been lobbying to turn convert the abandoned rail into the “QueensWay,” a park similar to Manhattan’s High Line, an idea that mayoral candidate Andrew Yang has recently latched onto in his bid for Gracie Mansion.

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