By Capt. Subway
The controversy over what to do with the 3.5-mile long abandoned northern section of the defunct LIRR Rockaway Line between Ozone Park and Rego Park has once again made it into a major newspaper, in this case in an article in the New York Times about a week ago. In that article we learned that the state will be awarding a $500,000 grant to the Trust for Public Land to study the QueensWay proposal to turn the abandoned railroad right-of-way into a linear park and biking/walking trail. It is rather curious that no equivalent grant is being made to the groups – and such people and groups do exist – advocating that the line should be resurrected as a – hold your hats - rail line. An extension of the "R" subway line, in fact.
The advocates for the Greenway insist that the revived line would accomplish little and that few people would ride. Oh really – a line that parallels the heavily trafficked Woodhaven Boulevard corridor – a line that would provide a one seat connection from densely settled Queens neighborhoods like Rego Park, Jackson Heights, Woodside, Astoria and Long Island City to East and West Midtown, that would provide possible transfer connections to the IND "A" and BMT "J" lines, and that would also serve neighborhoods of moderate density in central Queens that have no heavy rail access at this time – no one’s going to ride it?
Furthermore the Greenway crowd says that reviving the line would be too costly. Yes much work would be needed to get it back up and running. But as compared to constructing a wholly new rail line the cost of getting the defunct line back in working order would be a genuine bargain, probably around one tenth the cost of new construction.
Many people have argued that the line should be reactivated as a branch of the Long Island Rail Road. This would be better than a greenway, but not as good as a connection to the Queens Boulevard subway line. The capacity of the Queens Boulevard line is determined by a combination of signaling along each of its four tracks and by its terminal capacity, i.e. the ability of the terminal stations, 71-Continental Avenue-Forest Hills, 179th Street and Parsons/Archer to process or relay arriving and departing trains. The express tracks are, happily, operating at the current design capacity of 30 trains per hour.
Unfortunately the local tracks, while also theoretically capable of 30 trains per hour, are presently only running at about 20 trains per hour in the peak period. This is necessitated by the terminal at 71-Continental, which can only turn around about 20 trains per hour at the limit, and that not very well. For this reason the 63rd St connection to Queens Boulevard required a "robbing from Peter to pay Paul" switcheroo: the "G" line had to be cut back to Court Square and its slots on Queens Boulevard given over to another, Manhattan oriented service, first to the "V", and now to the "M". (For the first few years the “G” line ran to and from Forest Hills nights and weekends, when there was no "V" train service. But this passenger friendly part-time service died to make weekend service changes more doable).
Of course it needn’t be that way. Even in the original MTA plans from the late ‘60s "G" service would have remained intact. The express by-pass alone would have insured this. This is where the old LIRR Rock Line comes into play. By connecting this line to the Queens Boulevard line east (subway north) of 63rd Drive station – the tunnel bell mouths are there specifically for that scenario – the path to another local service terminal would be created, i.e. now the "G", along with the "M" and "R" could run along the Queens Boulevard local tracks, with one of these service branching off after 63rd Drive and heading off to a new terminal at either Howard Beach or, it would be hoped, JFK, and thus not threatening to overwhelm 71-Continental as a terminal. In this way peak trains per hour on the Queens Boulevard local tracks could be raised from the present day 20 trains per hour up to 27 ½ trains per hour, given the current timetables on those three lines. This would be a significant improvement in service, especially if the "G" were equipped with full length trains.
These are the transit advantages of reactivating the Rockaway Branch as a subway line. Neighborhoods like Woodhaven, Rego Park and Ozone Park get quicker service to Midtown. Greenpoint and Williamsburg can be reconnected to Astoria and Jackson Heights with revived G train service. Local stations on the Queens Boulevard line see seven more trains an hour.
These benefits are worth the money. This is something we can do. If you agree, sign our petition to Governor Cuomo and be counted.
Capt Subway is a Queens resident and transit advocate with 37 years of experience working for the New York City Transit Authority, including Senior Schedule Manager. He has had his alias for at least as long as I've had mine.