QueensWay makes its case against rail line

Friends of QueensWay

An Open Letter to MTA Chairman Thomas Prendergast:

We are writing to you regarding the study that we understand the MTA is undertaking about possible activation of rail service along the long-abandoned section of the former Rockaway Beach Branch Line in the borough of Queens.

As you may know, Friends of the QueensWay is a community-based organization formed by many people living along this abandoned – and blighted – property who are advocating for its adaptive reuse as a 3.5-mile linear public park. Working with The Trust for Public Land, for the past few years we have been pursuing a plan that will significantly improve the quality of life in our communities by providing a safe bike and pedestrian path, adding new parkland, improving environmental conditions, and connecting neighborhoods. In fact, much of our motivation comes from decades of inaction on developing this property and the impact that it has on our quality of life. One of the excuses for not developing the park is because of a rail alternative which has no details, has been met with significant community opposition and has been the subject of multiple studies (since the 1962 closure of the line) that have conclusively shown that rail reactivation on this abandoned property is not feasible.

Together with The Trust for Public Land, we have raised more than $2 million in private and public funding (including more than $900,000 from the state Regional Economic Development Council), overseen a year-long planning process, and developed an active program to engage the community. The QueensWay has secured the endorsement of multiple elected officials, citywide and local community groups, thousands of local residents, and The New York Times.

We respectfully ask you and the MTA to consider the following negative impacts of this rail reactivation:

Elimination of/disturbance to community spaces where children play and learn

Since rail activity ended, a number of vital community facilities have sprung up along the rail line, including three new schools comprising the Metropolitan Education Campus on Metropolitan Avenue in Forest Hills and the Forest Hills and Ridgewood-Glendale Little Leagues. 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. This issue could be exacerbated depending on where any new stations might be built, given that certain former station locations are being used for other developments that emerged after rail use was abandoned. .

Loss of Parkland

Of this 47-acre former RBB line property (owned entirely by the city), seven acres are now under the jurisdiction of the city Department of Parks & Recreation. It is our understanding, based upon consultation with The Trust for Public Land’s attorneys, that if a non-parks use were enacted here (including a train), it would trigger the parks alienation procedure, necessitating state Legislature approval and the need to create seven acres of nearby replacement parkland.

Prohibitive Cost

Among various previous studies, one done in 1975 estimated the cost of reactivation to John F. Kennedy Airport to be $469 million, which is over $3 billion in today’s dollars. Extending the rail line to the Rockaways would cost much more, particularly building a new bridge across Jamaica Bay to the Rockaways – a tremendous challenge considering the environmental protections in place. There are better ways to spend that money.

Negative Impact on Rockaways Commuters

In the course of our community consultation, we have heard from a number of Rockaway residents who are concerned that reactivation of the LIRR route would eliminate A subway service (since LIRR trains and subways cannot share the same track), forcing commuters from the Rockaways to use the LIRR. This would increase their transit expenses by as much as $200 a month, prohibitive for some. If on the other hand it were decided that the A subway should run along the RBB line, commuting times from the Rockaways to Midtown Manhattan would not necessarily be improved, and already overly-crowded Queens Boulevard subway tunnels (E, F, M, and R) could become even more taxed due to the addition of new trains.

Negative Impact on LIRR Main Line

Previous studies of the LIRR have shown that were the RBB line reactivated, the logistics of accommodating its connection into the Main Line could cause slowing of trains running west into Manhattan during the morning rush hour.

Friends of the QueensWay Steering Committee

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