2005-05-06 / Community

Long Dormant Rockaway Beach Rail Line: Eyesore Or Savior?

By Howard Schwach


Some people look at the long-abandoned stretch of railroad tracks as an eyesore – a place where locals dump their rusting and rotting garbage and derelicts hang out. They want to turn that eyesore into a greenway of sorts, a bicycle path that the community could be proud of.

Others, however, many of them who live or work in Rockaway, see that abandoned line as a chance not to build a bike path, but to revitalize the line and cut forty-five minutes for commuters from the peninsula to Manhattan.

Old-time Rockaway residents will remember that more than forty years ago, there were two ways to get to Manhattan from Rockaway on the Long Island Railroad (LIRR). The “long way” took passengers through the five towns and then to Jamaica and into Manhattan. The “short way” took passengers across the bay on what is now the subway trestle. That route went through central Queens directly to Grand Central Station in Manhattan. It is the four-mile stretch of unused track that is now the subject of the controversy.

While it regularly takes more than an hour to get to Manhattan from Rockaway, utilizing the unused track for a new rail system would cut that time to approximately 40 minutes, according to transit experts.

“Old time residents remember getting to Manhattan in 42 minutes,” says Rockaway resident Norm Silverman, an official of the Regional Working Group, an organization that has been lobbying to reopen the unused line for years. “The long commute from Rockaway to Manhattan is unnecessary. Direct service through Queens on the old Rockaway Beach Line of the LIRR could save 20 to 30 minutes on each trip.”

Silverman says that the group, working with engineers and commuters, hopes to get the funding from the MTA budget to reopen the line.

“The right of way still exists,” he adds. “Brush, garbage and trees would have to be cleared and new tracks and signals installed, but it could be done for less than $400 million.”

Community Board 14 favors the reopening of the line as well.

“The Community Board voted years ago to support the revitalization of the line, and we haven’t changed that since,” says the board’s district manager, Jonathan Gaska.

Gaska, however, thinks that the revitalization of the line is a long shot.

“It probably would have been easier to do fifteen years ago when we first discussed it,” he said. “Now, it’s a tough issue. We are probably better off talking to the state to revisit express trains on the A Line and ferries.”

“Those are probably more doable,” he added.

Proponents of the greenway bike path, however, believe that the line will never be reopened and that their plan is the only viable answer to the deterioration of the right of way.

“We want to transform an unused, abandoned and rather ugly piece of land,” Jordan Sandke of Richmond Hill told Oren Yaniv of the New York Daily News.

Any changes to the land, which is owned by the city, must be approved by three community boards (although not by Community Board 14, which represents Rockaway interests) and a number of city agencies.

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