Pheffer announces progress for Rockaway Beach Line reactivation study

Pheffer announces progress for Rockaway Beach Line reactivation study
Photo by Michael Shain
By Mark Hallum

State Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato (D-Rockaway) announced a step forward in the study to revive the abandoned Rockaway Beach branch of the Long Island Railroad.

Reactivation of the line would not only bring easy access to residents in the Rockaways who commute to Manhattan, but also link the rest of the city to JFK Airport, Amato said.

Although the findings of the feasibility study, launched in April 2016, have been pushed back to winter, Pheffer Amato said there have been two key advancements through a letter exchange with MTA officials.

The search criteria of the study has been adjusted to answer specific questions to help MTA officials come to a decision, and an agreement was struck between the MTA, LIRR and New York City Transit to hire an independent contractor to complete the study.

“Reactivating the RBRL may be the best and most permanent fix for our transit issues,” Pheffer Amato said. “We had a 40-minute commute for 80 years, from 1880 to 1960. But it was lengthened to an hour, 20 minutes, and now we’re effectively cut off from large parts of the city. And now, even though the Rockaway Peninsula economy is roaring back, there’s this narrative parroted by some in city government that a competing project idea to the QueensRail, the QueensWay, is likely to materialize. But the demand for real transit never went away, and we think Gov. Cuomo’s call for a single-seat ride from JFK to Midtown definitely is helping with momentum for restoring the RBRL.”

The advancement of reclaiming the line, which runs parallel and just east of Woodhaven Boulevard from Ozone Park to Rego Park, for commuters is a “huge deal,” according to Pheffer Amato, who said the effort has become her No. 1 priority.

“Folks are realizing what a great value our area is and are coming here in droves,” she said. “That’s great. But we’ve always known this place is a jewel, and we’ve been neglected way too long. We need to use this moment to make real decisions that affect real peoples’ lives. That’s what government is about – actually improving daily life. The MTA, the LIRR and NYCT are getting that message from our advocacy and the outpouring of demand from the community, and, at long last, they’re giving the RBRL a serious look. I applaud them for that, and we’re excited to be re-engaging with the community on moving forward.”

Pheffer Amato also launched a petition known as “South Queens Needs Transit” on Change.org to illustrate demand for the rail to the three agencies.

The Rockaway Beach Line was in use from the 1880s until the 1960s when it was put into hibernation for low ridership. But since the Rockaway economy has been revived, Pheffer Amato claims the rail line should be, too.

However, there has long been fierce debate among many who advocate for better transportation and those who wish to have the long-neglected tracks turned into greenspace, much like the High Line on the west side of Manhattan.

The project was at the top of the to-do list for Pheffer Amato’s predecessor, Phil Goldfeder, who decided to forego re-election in favor of focusing on family.

Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhallum@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4564.