Any hope of restoring train service along the Long Island Rail Road’s old Rockaway Beach Line was always slim to none. Yes, it would be great in theory to have a new public transit connection from Rockaway to Rego Park, but the obstacles were numerous — and the financial one simply overwhelming.
And now hope is officially gone, with the city announcing a $35 million project to turn a 5-acre section of the right-of-way into the first phase of a planned linear park, called the QueensWay and modeled after Manhattan’s High Line. QueensWay has always been the rival to the train revival proposal, first called QueensRail and then, for some reason or another, rebranded as QueensLink. The latter would allow for some park space too.
But it’s just not going to happen. The cost of re-establishing rail service — not just a matter of cutting down trees and shining up the tracks they’re growing over — would be in the billions. The MTA says $8.1 billion, while the rail backers claim $3.7 billion. It almost doesn’t matter, as the park plan is far easier and cheaper — though repurposing those old rails that have gone unused since 1962 and turning the right-of-way into something safe for people to visit won’t be a picnic either.
The plan will do something nice, at least in many minds, by providing a new pedestrian route connecting the shopping around Trader Joe’s on Metropolitan Avenue with Stop & Shop and the stores on Union Turnpike, as well as the schools in between them. And it’s only the first step in a plan to turn the ROW into a 47-acre park.
One option — if not for the costs — is the one that this page endorsed several years ago, agreeing with the Regional Plan Association. That would be park to the north and rail to the south, with the QueensWay from Rego Park to Woodhaven and trains from Atlantic Avenue down. But that was before the virus came. Now there’s not enough ridership and not enough money (if there ever was).
Another option we kind of liked was keeping the status quo. That one was pretty much free. Let’s see how a modest start to the park plays out.