2001-02-17 / Front Page

MTA Derails Rockaway LIRR Plan

MTA Derails Rockaway LIRR Plan

Transit Advocates Not Deterred In Fight

By John C. McLoughlin

Officials from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) released a study last week investigating the feasibility of reestablishing the Long Island Rail Road Rockaway Beach Branch, citing high operational and construction costs and reduced service as reasons why the proposal would not come to fruition.

Known as the Apple Corridor plan, the Committee for Better Transit, Inc., has advocated the reopening of the ex-LRR Rockaway Beach Branch as a means to increase the efficiency of travel.

Closed in the 1950’s, the LIRR Rockaway Beach Branch would provide trains that will go from the Rockaways, JFK Airport and Lefferts boulevard to Penn Station and later to Grand Central Terminal, when a new rail line opens in 2010. The trains would stop at Ozone Park, Woodhaven, Brooklyn Manor (Jamaica avenue), Parkside (Metropolitan avenue), and Rego Park. The estimated time to midtown Manhattan would be 30 to 40 minutes, at least 50 percent faster than subways and buses.

The MTA study found that the replacement of New York City Transit subway service to Far Rockaway with LIRR service and a restored Rockaway Beach Branch to White Pot Junction, while retaining NYC Transit service to Rockaway Park, "would be no net benefit to Rockaway commuters." The report states that 68 percent of Rockaway commuters who have destinations other than midtown Manhattan would not be served and the travel times of Far Rockaway commuters destined for lower Manhattan, Downtown Brooklyn, and other areas of Queens would increase. The study further identified the following as reasons why the proposal was not feasible: LIRR track and terminal capacity constraints would limit or preclude LIRR Rockaway service in critical peak periods; the construction of a required new two-track trestle across Jamaica Bay would impact environmentally sensitive wetland areas; and the cost for construction is high, estimated to be $875 million.

Transit advocates immediately responded to the study, which they referred to as "flawed" and "ridiculous."

"The report was lacking in a number of ways," said Norman Silverman of the Rockaway Transit Coalition. "The consultants doing the study did not seek information from RTC or any of the experts who helped design the Apple Corridor plan. They did not hold the public hearing that had been promised in early 1999."

The Rockaway Transit Coalition also pointed out that the survey does not take into account new passengers the service would attract and the MTA’s estimated cost of $875 million is far greater than the $78 million proposed in the Apple Corridor plan.

Jack King, co-chair of Q-Rail, said the "figure they [MTA] came up with is higher," but made it clear that it would pay for the city to invest in the project. King said that the LIRR Rockaway Beach Branch would attract businesses to the Rockaways, helping reduce unemployment and revitalizing the peninsula. "Unemployment is four times the national average," King said. "We’ve had so many requests from businesses to do this.... the city should do something for Rockaway."

Although the MTA study hampers the spirits of transit advocates like King, he said the fight is "definitely not over." There are several letters being written to elected officials, though King admits that the only "firm supporter" has been Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer.

The reopening of the LIRR Rockaway Beach Branch has been met with opposition from such central Queens communities as Forest Hills, Kew Gardens, Richmond Hill and Glendale. A stretch of tracks runs through these neighborhoods, which residents view as a threat to their quality of life if reactivated.

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