Thursday, July 9, 2015

The Montauk Branch should go to Queens Plaza

I was pleased to see that Councilmember Elizabeth Crowley has come out in favor of restoring passenger service on the west end of the Long Island Rail Road's Montauk Branch, which actually goes from Jamaica to Long Island City. I took a Long Island Rail Road train along this once, years ago, when they still ran passenger trains. It was pointless except for a railfan experience: there was one train a day in each direction, and it went nonstop to Jamaica.

I'm not sure how light rail would coexist with the freight trains that still use the Branch, but with the Federal Railroad Administration making it easier to run lighter trains, there should be some relatively cost-effective way to run frequent service along the line, not only to the Atlas Park Mall in Glendale, but to Fresh Pond Road in Ridgewood, Forest View Crescent, Forest Park, and Hillside Avenue in Richmond Hill.

There is one change that I would strongly recommend at the western end that would make a huge difference in the value of the line. The old passenger service terminated at the old Long Island City station in Hunter's Point, which was once really convenient when it was served by frequent, massive ferries to Manhattan. Now it is a relatively long walk to the East River Ferry, which runs every twenty minutes, or a similarly long walk to the #7 train at Vernon Boulevard and Jackson Avenue, which is crowded at rush hour. You could move the station closer to Vernon-Jackson, but then it would be further from the ferry, and vice versa.

Instead of using the old Long Island City terminus, the passenger trains should use an existing flyover that crosses the Sunnyside Yards. This part of the Yards is currently being used as a staging area for the East Side Access project. There is room to build a two-track line along the north side of the Yards, terminating at a new station under Queens Boulevard. This would bring passengers one short block from the Queens Plaza subway station where they could change for the E, M or R trains.

For a light rail train, it might be possible to build another stop at Pearson Street, a block from Court Square. Depending on what gets built along Northern Boulevard, it might also be possible to extend the train east to 48th Street, Woodside Avenue or even Broadway. But regardless, the line should go to Queens Plaza. It would give residents of Ridgewood and Glendale better access to jobs and better connections to Manhattan.


itineranturbanist said...

Interesting idea. The easier thing to do might be to build a new connecting track, although it would be tight, to allow trains to turn east into Hunterspoint Ave., which is closer to a 7 station and only a couple of blocks from a G station. It would be tight and involve taking a couple of warehouses, but potentially doable.

The bigger problem is that the Lower Montauk fills a gap in the city's transit network, but doesn't run through particularly dense residential neighborhoods. Probably worth reviving, but also probably not at the top of anyone's priority list. Thinking about how to use LIRR's numerous Queens and Brooklyn terminals more creatively, though...that's a thing.

Charlie said...

Seems like a no brainer. It'll never happen.

capt subway said...

Actually, as for the LIRR trains, I rode the line a few times in the early 1990s. As I recall there were two diesel trains from Oyster Bay in the morning and two diesel trains to Oyster bay in the evening rush hour (the same two trains, as they layed-up in LIC midday). At the time they were still making a number of intermediate stops: Haberman, Penny Bridge, Fresh Pond, Richmond Hill, I forget, there were one or two others.

In the early 1980s it was proposed to use the line as an alternative to the much dead Queens Express By-pass subway line, (from the original MTA master plan from the late 1960s), originating from the 63rd St tunnel (now hooked up to the Queens Blvd line). However the NIMBYs along the Montauk line raised holly hell, much aided and abetted by Geraldine Ferraro, about the dangers of electrification, all those noisy trains and, of course, the unspoken one of all of "those" people who would flood into the 'hoods along the line (it was proposed to have a number of intermediate stops). The proposed subway would have made its way from the present 63 St tunnel under the Sunnyside Yards and Van Dam St on over to the Montauk line.

I still think resurrecting this subway plan would make great good sense today. The 63rd St line, as it stands today, has accomplished absolutely nothing - not added a single train to Queens service. It's simply swapped the G for the V, now the M, and turning the G into a really second rate line with a completely crappy terminal at Court Sq. Putting 63rd St subway trains onto a wholly new line would result in increasing the train count dramatically, and would enable bringing the G back onto Queens Blvd.