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MTA says billions needed to revive old Rockaway LIRR track

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A preliminary study outlines the barriers and costs associated with reactivating a stretch of Long Island Rail Road track in eastern Queens

Leaves and trees grow from a disused portion of track, formerly the LIRR Rockaway Beach Branch.
A thicket of trees grow from a portion of LIRR track on the Rockaway Beach Branch line, which has gone without use since the 1960s.
Nathan Kensinger

The MTA has released a preliminary study detailing the barriers and costs associated with reactivating a stretch of Long Island Rail Road track in eastern Queens that’s been out of use since the early 1960s—a move that would ostensibly save straphangers valuable commuting time and economically boost the historically middle-class neighborhoods surrounding it.

The study, first cited by The City, looks into the feasibility of reactivating the Rockaway Beach Branch for Long Island Railroad or subway use, connecting commuters from Howard Beach, Queens to Midtown.

The study estimates that if the track is reactivated as LIRR, some 11,000 riders would use the line on an average weekday for a ride that would take about 30 minutes between Howard Beach and Penn Station. If the Rockaway Beach Branch is reintegrated into the LIRR plan, it would connect to the main line at Rego Park and continue south to Howard Beach. This would mean a new storage and maintenance yard for the trains would need to be established near the Howard Beach Station.

If the track becomes an extension of the subway, the study estimates that some 47,000 riders would use the track daily for a commute between Howard Beach and Herald Square that would take about 45 minutes. With the subway extension, the RBB would connect to the Queens Boulevard line at 63rd Drive-Rego Park and continue along the existing A track. The extension would require the construction of a new tunnel for a direct underground connection to the Queens Boulevard line at 64th Street.

A map that depicts where the proposed LIRR spur will reconnect to the Long Island Rail Road while positioning it in the larger public transportation framework of the area.
If the track is reintroduced as part of the LIRR, it will connect to the existing track at Rego Park.
Courtesy of the MTA
A map that depicts where the proposed subway spur will reconnect to the NYCT while positioning it in the larger public transportation framework of the area.
If the track is connected to the subway, it will join the Queens Boulevard Line at 63rd Drive-Rego Park.
Courtesy of the MTA

The former LIRR Rockaway Beach Branch has been out of use since 1962, and has structurally degraded from lack of use over the years. Reactivating the stretch would require several spans of track to be completely replaced. It would also require the laying of new track and the installation of new signals and third rail traction power substations.

The work, of course, will come at a great cost. (This is a project related to the MTA, after all.) SYSTRA Engineering, who was commissioned by the agency in October 2017 to carry out the study, estimates that it will cost $6.7 billion to reactivate the stretch as LIRR, and $8.1 billion to connect the stretch to the subway (and that doesn’t include the cost of land that would have to be acquired to complete the projects.)

Assembly member Stacy Pheffer Amato, whose district includes Howard Beach and the Rockaways, says the cost of the project “cannot be an obstacle” to its completion. “We’re talking about a real opportunity to give time back to commuters’ lives,” said Amato.

The study also estimates that the region surrounding the reactivated track would experience an economic spur through “increased property values, desirability/quality of life benefits, accessibility, and mobility options through leveraging the improved travel times to Midtown Manhattan for the study area’s primarily middle class residents.”

The structure of the Rockaway Beach Branch spur has long been eyed by area residents for reuse as an elevated park similar to the High Line. The so-called QueensWay would reappoint the 3.5-mile stretch of elevated track into a lush public park.

“We are really sensitive to the transportation question, but on balance, the park would provide a huge benefit to the community,” Karen Imas, Friends of the Queensway member, told The City. “Our hope is that the high costs provide an opening to consider a park.”

Rockaway Beach

, Queens, NY