Dec. 13, 2016 By Domenick Rafter
As the Metropolitan Transit Authority ponders whether to bring train service back to the abandoned Rockaway Beach LIRR line, a group planning a 3.5 mile linear park over the same tracks between Rego Park and Ozone Park sent a letter to the agency earlier this week arguing that the reinstatement of rail would be a mistake.
Friends of the QueensWay, a nonprofit group that formed in 2011 that aims to build a Queens version of Manhattan’s High Line, sent the letter to MTA Chairman Thomas Prendergast citing several quality-of-life concerns about bringing back the rail service that was abandoned in 1962.
These included the loss of parkland in Forest Park; noise pollution; the effect construction of a transit line would have on playgrounds and ballfields; and the impact the new line would have on the A train subway in the Rockaways and LIRR Main Line.
Rail advocates, who are hoping that that the MTA brings back service, said the train line would help improve travel times from Southern Queens to Midtown Manhattan – which can take over an hour by express bus or A subway train – and offer residents a better public transit option than buses along the congested Woodhaven Boulevard corridor.
The letter comes a few weeks after Friends of the QueensWay announced it was close to securing the funds to build the first half-mile of the proposed park, and could have that phase, located between Yellowstone Boulevard and Union Turnpike, open by the beginning of the next decade.
The competing rail idea has received the support of two members of Congress; U.S. Reps. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica) and Hakeem Jeffries (D-Brooklyn) and was heavily promoted by former Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Rockaway Park).
The MTA is currently studying the corridor as it looks at possible transportation options, according to a spokesman.
Though the track right of way is owned by the city and managed by the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, the section that runs through Forest Park is designated as city parkland.
The Friends of the QueensWay letter points out that developing the right of way for transit within the park would result in the loss of seven acres of parkland, forcing the city to make up for lost parkland somewhere else.
Reinstating a train along the line would also require the destruction and relocation of several recreational facilities that abut it, including the Forest Hills and Ridgewood-Glendale little league fields, according to the QueensWay group. Both facilities are being encompassed into the QueensWay plans.
“Rail reactivation would likely cause full or partial closure of little league fields, and significant noise would distract Metropolitan Campus students and bother thousands of local residents,” according to the Friends of the QueensWay’s letter.
Rail advocates want train service to come back in the form of either the reinstatement of the former LIRR route served by the railroad, or a new subway line that would use the abandoned tracks to connect to the Queens Boulevard line, perhaps an extension of the R train. Either option would kill the QueensWay plan.
Friends of the QueensWay also argue that running a subway line along the route would also slow transit times as they would connect to the already over-burdened Queens Boulevard line, overtaxing the route and slowing down trains.
Reinstating train service has been studied by the MTA previously.
Immediately after suspension of service in 1962, the MTA mulled over running a subway along the route connecting to the Queens Boulevard line, but nothing ever came of that plan.
In the late 1990s, the right of way was looked at for potential train service to JFK Airport, and a study was done to look at the feasibility of reinstating trains. In 2001, the MTA concluded a train along the route to JFK Airport would not be convenient for more than two-thirds of potential users and would actually be detrimental to Rockaway residents in that it would lead to longer wait times for trains. Instead, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey proposed and constructed the current AirTrain system to satisfy JFK Airport transit needs.
Friends of the QueensWay has used that previous study as a reason to expect a similar conclusion from the MTA this time. However, transit advocates note that particular study focused specifically on rail service from Midtown directly to JFK Airport – with no local stops in between, while this new study focuses on local train service and a route into the Rockaways and thus they expect the MTA to come to a different conclusion.
Many residents who live along the line dislike the plans put forward by the rail advocates and Queensway group.
At last month’s Forest Hills Civic Association Meeting, Friends of QueensWay members were confronted by residents, notably those who live in Forest Park Crescent, an apartment building on Union Turnpike that includes a parking lot built directly over the right of way of the former rail line.
The residents said they would oppose these plans as it would mean the destruction of their parking lot and would cut off the apartment complex from access to roads to the west of the building, including Woodhaven Boulevard.
Residents living near the right of way along Selfridge and Alderton streets and in other communities, such as Woodhaven, have come out in opposition of both plans, offering concerns about safety and privacy.
Nevertheless, QueensWay advocates are claiming progress as they continue to fund raise and advance their design.