Re-use of Queens’ Abandoned Rockaway Beach Branch Should Maximize Benefit for the Community

The Rockaway Beach Branch ROW. | Photo: Friends of the QueensWay

For the past five decades, no one paid much attention to the remains of the abandoned railway that used to run the Long Island Rail Road Rockaway Beach Branch, that is, until recently. This vacant 3.5-mile right-of-way (ROW) between Rego Park and the Rockaways, which last served passengers in 1962, is being re-imagined by some as a greenway, while others want to bring it back as a reactivated rail line.

For years, pro-park advocates (who have dubbed the ROW the “QueensWay”) have been pushing to transform 3.5 miles of the track from Rego Park to Ozone Park into an elevated linear park and multi-use path, inspired by the success of the High Line in Chelsea. Last month, the Trust for Public Land (TPL) took the idea a step forward by announcing a request for proposal (RFP) for a feasibility study. Backed by a $500K grant from Governor Cuomo (a Queens native), TPL seeks to examine the planning, design and engineering required to turn this ROW into a park.

Others have envisioned a different reuse that would bring  rail back to the right-of-way, specifically an extension of the R train from the 63rd Street Rego Park station toward Howard Beach and JFK International Airport.

While the greenway proposal moves forward with the backing of Governor Cuomo’s grant, Congressmen Hakeem Jeffries and Greg Meeks, as well as Assemblyman Phil Goldfederargue that if tax dollars will be used to study an open space option, then rail reactivation must also be studied.

A member of Community Board 14, which serves the neighborhoods of the Rockaways, describes an upgrade in rail service for Queens residents a “truly shovel ready job.” This plan envisions the re-connection of the northern part of the Rockaway Beach line with its southern portion, which is used today via the A train into the Rockaways. This would require establishing subway tracks on the 3.5 mile stretch between the Aqueduct and the Rego Park station, thus linking the A train to the Queens Boulevard lines.

Reactivating the ROW as a rail line would effectively fill the transit gap between northern and southern Queens. Today, if you wanted to ride from the Rockaways to Flushing, you’d have to travel through Manhattan — or switch to the G Train — and then to the 7 Train. With an R Train extension on a restored ROW, it would take only 40 minutes to get from the Rockaway Peninsula to Penn Station— like it did in the 1950s when the line was still active. Today, the only option Rockaway commuters have to get into Manhattan is via the A line, which can take over an hour.

Additionally, because Howard Beach, Broad Channel and the Rockaways are still suffering from the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, a rail line could help motivate development and recovery. Jeffries, Meeks and Goldfeder recently asked Transportation Secretary Ray Lahood to direct a portion of the state’s federal Sandy recovery aid toward studying rail reactivation on the Rockaway Beach Branch. Assemblyman Goldfelder recognizes that there are a number of options outside of reactivating the line as a branch of the LIRR, including light rail or bus service- which is why he believes a study should be done.

Restoring rail on the ROW doesn’t just improve mass transit connections in Queens and boost economic activity post-Sandy; it could also help ease congestion on heavily-trafficked roads such as Cross Bay Boulevard and Woodhaven Boulevard — Queens’ most dangerous road for pedestrians.

A number of other ideas to reactivate passenger service using this defunct right-of-way continue to circulate. The Rockaway Subcommittee of the Regional Rail Working Group, long-time advocates for rail reactivation, have proposed a cross-platform transfer at Aqueduct station to provide convenient transfers to Downtown Brooklyn or Lower Manhattan using the A train, as well as a connection between the Long Island Rail Road tracks to JFK International Airport’s Air Train right-of-way, which could, in theory, allow LIRR trains to serve the six airport terminal stations providing a one-seat ride between the airport and Penn Station.

Whether the ROW is reused as a greenway or for transit, both options could benefit those living in the area by easing congestion on dangerous roads, spurring economic development and offering greater transportation options. The residents of Queens deserve a comprehensive study, like the one proposed by Jeffries, Meeks and Goldfelder, to determine which option would benefit communities more.

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22 comments to Re-use of Queens’ Abandoned Rockaway Beach Branch Should Maximize Benefit for the Community

  • Ed Broderick

    Beach Day

    Blue skys up above.
    Blue eyes full of love.
    Skys of blue free of clouds
    to the beach bring the crowds.

    Days of warmth with breezes soft,
    lure the gulls to soar aloft.
    Freckled faces, rosy red
    play in the sand till its time for bed.

    Ocean waves rise and fall.
    Surfers ride and have a ball.
    A man or two with poles of glass,
    stare at the ocean till the day does pass.
    If one is lucky and lands a fish,
    I’m sure he’ll sigh and make a wish

    For another great day!
    in “ROCKAWAY” with
    Blue skys up above
    and freckled faces full of love.

    Ed Broderick

  • Rose Curley

    There is already a right of way on these old tracks. The cost saving to rehabilitate only 3.5 miles of track without having to comdemn property has to be enormous, and the benefits would be to the more than 100,00 people in the Rockaways.
    Certainly those living along the now abandoned trackes shoud be given an incentive to support, rather than fight this initiative.
    Forest Park is nearby aas well as the beaches. Improved transportation would be a boon to all of Queens.

  • Patrick Tubridy

    Thank you so much for being an advocate for this study. All Queens residents need this, connecting us together and easing congestion on Woodhaven Blvd. We could name it the NoSo R Or NoSo Q.

  • Pat

    One of the biggest mistakes in the history of New York City was taking the LIRR away from the Rockaways. It must be put back now! It will be sooo much easier to get to and from Manhattan if the railroad comes back. The subway takes way too long. Please bring back the railroad NOW!

  • RBL Supporter

    Reactivating rail would benefit every neighborhood along the line, not just Rockaway! If we work together, a bike trail can also be incorporated ALONGSIDE the rails.

    Rose Curley is right. Let’s give the homeowners along the ROW an incentive to support rail and let’s make rail reactivation a REALITY!

  • pete stubben

    hey…if my grandfather could take his four kids from Manhattan to his cherished Rockaway in 40 minutes 80 years ago, why does it take me 80 minutes, 80 years later…now that’s rapid-transit progress…PJS

  • Annette C.

    I remember when I was a child riding the LIRR to Rockaway Beach. It was a great experience as you can see I have not forgotten the trip. I rode the NYCTA, cane back seats, and then the LIRR cars. When I got to the Rockaways I was blown away. It was clean!, people were very friendly, the amusement park for me was the best, the beach was only sand and sea shells, (no garbage, loud music or any alcoholic beverages. It was like a resort. Lets bring that enviorment back to The Rockaways. Oh, also, I remember we were not going to Far Rockaway, that was a different place. Lets get the location correct also. I could see people saying we are going to The Rockaways. Then pick a location of your choice. There are many places here that are wonderful, from Beach 9th St. to Beach 149th St. But remember we need stores for our visitor to shop in. Lets get a move on this. Fix up Rockaway Beach Blvd. from 84th St. to 116th St. We are losing residence here because of this situation. Visitors and residents don’t want to see debrie, garbage, drug addicts, drunks, and vagrants in the streets. We want stores to shop, stores to eat in, crafts stores, antique or vintage stores, hobbie shops, book stores, libraries, grocery stores, shoe stores, churches that have phones, etc. We are here to stay. I am sure if the mayor, the governor, the congress, the senate, and the presidents office would be doing something more in this neighborhood if THEY LIVE HERE!!!!

  • RBL Supporter

    You can also help rail reactivation by visiting the web sites below:

    http://rockawaybeachline.org/flyer/RockawayflyerVersionPreFinal4CP-1a.pdf

    http://rrwg.org/rockaway.htm

  • RBL Supporter

    A GREAT article on the Rockaway Beach Rail Line that explains why it MUST be reactivated! http://queenscourier.com/2012/what-is-white-pot-junction-and-why-should-i-care/

  • Ron

    Propety value of homes along Rockaway Beach Rail Line should increase if the line were reactivated!

    http://capntransit.blogspot.com/2013/04/in-2013-subways-raise-property-values.html

  • Sophia Vailakis-DeVirgilio

    If the mayor wants to reduce traffic in Manhattan and driving in the City in general with bicycle lanes novelties, restoring this line for Rockaway and Broad Channel would go a long way to providing a much more practical option for those under served by public transportation. What is taken for granted in other areas of the City, and what is paid for via taxes and the many, many fees, tickets, summonses, and countless other monies collected from us locally and nationally needs to be used to help us get around better, rather than imposing another choke-hold fee or competitor for road and parking spaces.

  • j.b. diGriz

    This goal needs to be entirely re-framed in the context of a post-Sandy revitalization of the Rockaways. If you’re serious about supporting recovery, you’re serious about the rail reactivation. If you’re not serious about it, or against it, you’re only for helping our city recover from Sandy if it doesn’t affect you.

  • RJ Arena

    Restoring rail is a no-brianer. Just Do It.

  • Charles Siegel

    I am all for the rail option, and I will sign the petition. Let me correct one error:

    “it would take only 40 minutes to get from the Rockaway Peninsula to Penn Station— like it did in the 1950s when the line was still active.”

    According to _Between Ocean and City_ by Lawrence Kaplan (Columbia Univ Press, 2003) this LIRR service to the Rockaways ended in 1950, as a result of a fire on the rail bridge across Jamaica Bay. When the city subway took over the LIRR Rockaway line, they connected it to the A Train, and the longer commute time led to the decline of the Rockaways during the 1950s and 1960s.

    I suppose that the LIRR continued to run service to Ozone Park on this line until 1962, which is why the articles all say that rail service on this line ended in 1962. But that service did not go on to the Rockaways after 1950.

  • R Troy

    An extra note; modern subway cars are quiet, proper fencing and other safeguards can be put in place, and like someone else said, maybe a greenway can be built along side and even over it.

  • Ron

    Charles,

    You are correct that the LIRR continued to run service between Rego Park and Ozone Park until 1962. During that time, one would have to get off the train in Ozone Park and switch to the A for subway service to Rockaway.

    However, before the trestle fire over Jamaica Bay in the early ’50s, the entire line was LIRR through the Rockaways (no A train) and it was a 35 minute commute from Rockaway Beach to Penn Station.

  • Philip McManus

    The MTA has not provided enough buses for commuters. They have ignored our requests for more buses, longer buses, more express buses and 24 hour service for the Q 52 and Q 53. Thirty five thousand Queens commuters have been directly affected by the loss of the A train. Thousands more have to cope with the overcrowding on buses due to this displacement. We need more regular scheduled buses not random, haphazard, and inadequate service.

    Hurricane Sandy happened six months ago and Queens commuters from Woodside to Rockaway are waiting longer to get on a late, unreliable, dangerous, and overcrowded bus. This is a disgrace and must be corrected now.

    I also support the reactivation of the unused Rockaway Beach Line. The Rockaway Beach Line of the old LIRR used to take 35 minutes from Rockaway Park to Pennsylvania Station. This train track is one to six blocks from Woodhaven Boulevard and runs parallel to it.

    It makes common sense to reactivate this tremendous community asset to enhance Queens transit. We have 2.2 million people in Queens and our population is growing. We need more trains, buses and track.

    The Woodhaven Boulevard, Queens Boulevard, Van Wyck Expressway, Belt Parkway and the Long Island Expressway corridors have too much traffic, accidents, construction, disabled vehicles, trucks, buses, Sanitation, Police, Fire vehicles, etc. There are just too many variables to keep buses on time, reliable and not overcrowded without a significant increase in the amount of buses.

    We also need to reduce air pollution, gas consumption, vehicle and pedestrian injuries and fatalities. We need the best alternatives to relieve the current and future traffic delays and congestion to our transportation system.

    RBL is the right public transit option to address this growing problem. This dedicated right of way will avoid and help alleviate the associated traffic problems on the Woodhaven Boulevard corridor. 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 and may also avoid the overcrowded subways of Manhattan.

    Commuters and tourists from across the region would use the RBL to live, work, learn, shop, eat, and play in Queens.

    It would improve Queens crosstown transit and bring more people together and reduce travel times The RBL would increase business, employment, economic development, property values, tax revenues and educational opportunities for many Queens communities.

    It takes 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours to cross over Queens by public transit with many unnecessary transfers. It takes 55 minutes to cross Manhattan. It’s wrong for Queens residents to travel so much longer. Nobody wants to travel that long. Let’s help unite and improve public transportation for all of Queens and the City. Reopen the RBL.

    We need an unbiased legitimate study to determine the real benefits. It has cost south Queens billions of dollars and thousands of lives are being adversely affected by the loss of RBL since 1950.

    Please sign two petitions to reactivate the Rockaway Beach Line: RockawayBeachRail.com and http://www.- change.org/petitions/governor-andrewm cuomo-reactivate-the-lirr-rockawayline in-central-queens

    Are you tired of longer travel times, dangerous, overcrowded and unreliable trains and buses? Let’s get organized.

    Join our group, Queens Public Transit Committee to help fight for better transportation. Contact Philip McManus Rowing612@aol.com

  • […] future of this service remains uncertain and it is doubtful it will become permanent. Meanwhile, efforts to restore Rockaway service via the abandoned Rockaway line via a rail or subway line are […]

  • Steven Scott is a Maui-based freelance travel writer and photographer and can be reached
    at thehawaiitourist@gmail. ‘A change is as good as a rest’ as the old adage goes and good thing too, since
    a ski holiday in Verbier probably isn’t going to give you much of a rest. You can travel through the national park having huge areas that consist of lush plants and floodplains and thick forests and grass.

  • […] Since MTR last visited the proposal to transform the abandoned LIRR Rockaway Beach Line (RBL) into a 3.5 mile elevated park (known as the Queensway), a feasibility study for the project has been launched with the support of state funding and private donations. The official project team includes the Trust for Public Land, Friends of the Queensway, and design consultants WXY Architecture and DLand Studio, and community outreach specialists the Hester Street Collaborative. […]

  • […] Re-use of Queens’ Abandoned Rockaway Beach Branch Should Maximize Benefit for the Community  Comprehensive studies must be done to determine whether Queens residents would be better served by a greenway or a transit corridor on the Rockaway Beach Line. […]

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