MTA begins study to revive Rockaway rail line

By Mark Hallum

The Rockaway Beach Rail Line has sat defunct since 1962. Declining use led to the ultimate abandonment of the elevated LIRR tracks by the MTA, but the rusting steel with overgrown weeds has been the center of debate since demand for public transportation to the Rockaways has grown.

The issue has divided the Woodhaven and Ozone Park community over whether the rail line should be revived, transformed into a park and or passed up altogether in favor of a an express bus line and ferry service.

State Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D -Ozone Park) announced the MTA decided last week to do a feasibility study on the Queens Rail line. He has long pressed the MTA to conduct a study to determine whether or not the rail line can be revived without extreme cost. The agreement came out of intense negotiations in the state Legislature leading up to the recently passed state budget.

“For tens of thousands of Queens families forced to endure some of the longest commutes in the city, this announcement by the MTA is real progress,” Goldfeder said. “A comprehensive study of the Queens Rail will give voice to our transit concerns and bring Queens one step closer to having the transportation infrastructure we need and deserve.”

A report by the NYU Rudin Center for Transportation ranked many communities in Goldfeder’s district to be among the most poorly served citywide for access to job opportunities via public transportation. A student-led survey by Queens College Urban Studies Department in 2014 indicated that the revival of the Rockaway Line could generate half a million trips per day. The survey also concluded that a majority of local business owners are in support of bringing back service to the line, which runs from Forest Hills to Ozone Park, where it could be reconnected to the Rockaways.

State Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) has taken a dimmer view of reviving the line in recent months, however. In October, he told the TimesLedger that he believed the Rockaway line would be too pricey considering the fact that the city and state were still arguing over the MTA’s capital budget.

“They have no intention of doing a Rockaway line–it just won’t happen,” he said then.

The MTA must complete the study by June 30, 2017 and submit it to state Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx).

A ferry service is in works with the Economic Development Corporation and the de Blasio administration and will be known as Citywide Ferry Service. The EDC will renovate six old ferry landings and add 10 new ones to provide service to Astoria, South Brooklyn, and Rockaway by 2017, with service to Southview and Lower East Side routes following in 2018. The cost for a one-way ride on this these ferries will be $2.75, the same as a one-way Metrocard.

The Rockaway ferry that was introduced after Hurricane Sandy devastated the Rockaways was shut down in October 2015 because of costs.

The question is whether or not the Rockaway Beach Rail Line will be necessary if the Citywide Ferry Service is launched in the beginning of the same year. The new ferry service to Rockaway will be taking commuters to Brooklyn Army Terminal and Wall Street/Pier 11.

Addabbo still believes commuters should focus their hopes on more attainable options rather than the Rockaway line revival.

“Even if the study is approved, the MTA would have to decide whether to move forward,” he said this week. “For now, let’s work on things that are more immediate, like the ferry, like the buses.”

Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall[email protected]glocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4564.

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