Mar. 23, 2023 By Carlotta Mohamed
About 50 community members attended the QueensLink town hall in Ozone Park on March 16 to discuss plans for the dormant 3.5 miles Rockaway Beach train line that would bring accessible transportation to transit desert communities.
Volunteers of QueensLink heard community feedback on how to best meet residents’ needs for transit and more park space for the infrastructure project.
“We’re looking at an abandoned section of the Rockaway Beach Branch, which has been sitting there since 1962 since the last train ran,” said Paul Trust, QueensLink senior advocacy liaison. “The southern part is active as the A train goes down to the Rockaways, but there’s a northern section that is 3.5 miles long that hasn’t been used. It’s a wasteland collecting garbage…we’re looking to see what is the best use for this land that is sitting there.”
QueensLink, known as ‘Rails and Trails,’ would provide a new north-south transit link in Queens, using available land for new park space, according to the QueensLink website. The QueensLink project proposes rerouting the M train south after the 63rd Dr-Rego Park station along a new 3.5-mile extension south parallel to the border of Rego Park and Forest Hills, through Forest Park, Woodhaven and Ozone Park before connecting to the existing A train to Rockaway Park.
The M train would be routed to Rockaway Park, eliminating the current shuttle service and doubling overall service to the Rockaways. With the M train no longer running to Forest Hills, the G train could be extended in its place, having been cut back to Court Square in 2001, according to QueensLink.
The QueensLink will provide 33 acres of park space, according to QueensLink volunteer Noel Hunter. The group has received feedback from people who want to see more park space and transportation connecting to the parks. The group has also proposed building sound barriers along the corridor and bike lanes.
“Queens has some of the worst subway accessibility for people than the other boroughs. We are a transit desert, and we are a car culture here,” Trust said. “We feel that providing transportation alternatives, such as mass transit, helps everyone.”
An attendee, who expressed that he is both supportive and critical of the project, suggested expanding QueensLink to service commuters.
“If you’re in the Rockaways and try to go to Harlem, you’ll be stuck with the A train. The QueensLink is designed for midtown,” the resident said. “As far as bringing it to the Queens Boulevard line, we know how congested it is…we have to find an alternative while connecting QueensLink to Queens Boulevard either via transfer, so they can continue to Junction Boulevard to service the area and then go across to 125th Street.”
When asked how long it would take people to commute from the Rockaways to Midtown, Trust said it would take between 20 to 25 minutes, resulting in a better quality of living.
The MTA has determined that the QueensLink solution is feasible and that certain spots are wide enough for rails and trails. However, in September 2022, Mayor Eric Adams announced plans to develop the first phase of the $35 million QueensWay project, transforming the city-owned corridor in Forest Hills into a five-acre park.
Once completed, QueensWay will include a 47-acre park and seven miles of greenway connecting the neighborhoods of Rego Park, Forest Hills, Glendale, Woodhaven and Ozone Park. QueensLink volunteers said this would impede the development of their project.
“The mayor has made a commitment but no shovels are in the ground,” Trust said. “The only part that he has made a commitment for is a very small piece of the abandoned right-of-way right above Forest Park. So with the fact that it hasn’t come to be yet, we know that there is still a chance for us to voice ourselves so the mayor can hear that the people of South Queens want better transit.”
The group is requesting an Environmental Impact Study (EIS) to be conducted on the QueensLink, which is supported by 16 Queens lawmakers such as Congressman Gregory Meeks, Councilwoman Joann Ariola, Senators Jessica Ramos and Kristen Gonzalez, Assemblyman David Weprin and Queens Borough President Donovan Richards.
“The QueensLink is something that we’ve been kicking around for a very long time. There’s nothing we need more than having better transportation in southern Queens,” said Ariola, who attended the town hall.
Trust said they’re looking to gain more supporters, and are letting the mayor and governor know that there is support for the QueensLink proposal.
Trust noted that the group has made multiple attempts to meet with the mayor and deputy mayor but have been unsuccessful. The group will host similar town hall meetings in other neighborhoods to receive community input on the project.
“We’re trying to do as much community outreach as possible,” Trust said. “We think it’s important for these communities — Ozone Park, Forest Hills, Rego Park, the Rockaways — to hear what you think the answer for this line should be. Do you think it should be rails and trails, reactivated or left alone? There are thoughts from everyone.”