2012-03-02 / Letters

Not So Fast LIRR

Dear Editor,

Don’t plan on riding “LIRR To Aqueduct Spells Great News For Rockaway” (Nicholas Briano – February 17) any time soon. History has told us that construction of any major new transportation system expansion project has taken decades between the time of all the feasibility studies, environmental reviews, planning, design, engineering, real estate acquisition, permits, procurements, construction, budgeting, identifying and securing funding and opening day service. Virtually all of these issues would also apply to reopening the old Long Island Rail Road Rockaway Branch line.

Restoration of service along the LIRR Rockaway branch, also known as the White Pot Junction Line, was abandoned in the 1950s. This route started off as a spur from the LIRR mainline east of Woodside at Rego Park running to Ozone Park connecting to the “A” line subway near Aqueduct

Racetrack. If restored, it could provide a connection to the proposed Genting Americas Developers Convention Center. There are local community divisions along this route, between those wanting to convert this corridor to a permanent park with hiking trails versus restoration of LIRR service.

Any additional new LIRR service to Penn Station, which would include restoration of the old Rockaway branch, has other issues to contend with. There is little room to run additional trains into or out of Penn Station during either a.m. or p.m. rush hours. Three of four tunnels running inbound a.m. and outbound p.m. rush hours have very tight spacing between trains. One tunnel is shared by the LIRR, New Jersey Transit and Amtrak for reverse train movements with equally tight spacing during rush hours. This also includes limited platform capacity at Penn Station to accommodate any additional trains. Penn Station is currently operating at 100 percent capacity during both a.m. and p.m. rush hours. Train slots have to be shared among LIRR, Amtrak and New Jersey Transit.

Using the existing New York City Transit “A” train subway connection running along Eighth Avenue from any hotel in midtown Manhattan to the proposed project site in Queens would easily be an hour ride. During a.m. and p.m. rush hour, there may be limited spare track capacity or equipment to provide this additional service.

This route narrows to one track between Canal Street in Manhattan and Metro Tech Jay Street in downtown Brooklyn. The “A” train must share this one track with the “C” train which provides local service on the same corridor. Would casino visitors want to squeeze into already overcrowded subway cars joining tens of thousands of New Yorkers on their way to and from work? Daily “A” and “C” train riders would not be happy about any closed door service provided to casino patrons that skipped their own stations. Ditto for any “F’ train subway connection running along Sixth Avenue. Special “F” train service could run along the existing route and switch tracks at Metro Tech Jay Street Borough Hall in Brooklyn. It could proceed from that station and share the same tracks used by the “A’ train to the proposed convention site. Subway connections along both the “A” and “F” lines in midtown Manhattan could accommodate visitors traveling from various west side Manhattan hotels. Visitors utilizing hotels on the Manhattan east side would have to walk, take a local bus, another subway route or taxi for connections to the “A” or “F” lines. Riders are less likely to use any public transportation system if they have to make multiple transfers in attempting to reach the final destination. Remember that a new subway car can cost up to $2 million. A ten car unit for one train set could cost $20 million. It can easily take 3 to 5 years before new equipment can be purchased, manufactured and delivered. Additional storage and maintenance capacity for existing or new yards might be needed to support any new additional subway car equipment as part of fleet expansion to support convention center service.

There are other long term transportation improvements which would take many more years to complete well beyond the anticipated 2014 convention center opening day. Consider extending the Air Train currently operating from the Long Island Rail Road Jamaica Station to Kennedy Airport. Eight of nine LIRR lines provide direct connections for riders from Penn Station in Manhattan, Flatbush Avenue in downtown Brooklyn and neighborhoods in eastern Queens, Nassau and Suffolk counties. In addition, why not consider completion of the original Air Train proposal. This would have provided connections to La Guardia Airport. Add intermediate stops adjacent to Shea Stadium and downtown Flushing, Queens.

Imagine all the other cross benefits for those who may be traveling to either La Guardia Airport, Shea Stadium or downtown Flushing. Travel time from Penn Station to Ja-maica via the LIRR can be as little as 15 minutes. Switch to the Air Train with an extension to the convention site and add another 15 minutes. There are legal and capacity issues.

Would airline customers want to share their ride with those traveling to the convention center? Would the Air Train need additional equipment, signal system improvements along with expansion of maintenance and storage capacity?

At the end of the day, subsidies to support either expansion of express bus and or new ferry services may be the best bet for Rockaway residents looking for new transportation options for travel to other destinations. Either could be implemented far more quickly than any restoration of old LIRR services.

LARRY PENNER

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Dear Editor: Larry Penner is

Dear Editor: Larry Penner is correct to be concerned about the costs, complexities and impacts of reopening the LIRR Rockaway Beach Branch (RBB) (Letters ‘Not So Fast, LIRR’ March 2, 2012 editorial) but when compared to all of the other alternatives reactivating LIRR or subway service on the RBB line are still the best options available for serving New York City’s critical transportation needs. The RBB choice will also do the most of any of them to encourage badly-needed job-and-tax revenue-creating economic growth. What the RBB has going for it that the land is publicly owned and the line has never been formally abandoned. That means it can be put back into service faster at far less expense and red tape—including with rails with trails--than if it were just a “Greenfield” transit project. Contrary to impression, the community is also split on rails/trails with some neighborhoods opposing a greenway, fearing strangers in their back yards. Moreover, since this proposal was first seriously raised by Rockaways residents in the mid-1990s there has been growing support for it in Forest Hills, Richmond Hill and Woodhaven, the communities long most opposed to it. Mr. Penner is also correct to be point out the peak period capacity issues, but this is only temporary until the LIRR branch into Grand Central Terminal opens in 2018. In the interim we are advocating that LIRR trains can terminate at Hunterspoint Avenue and/or Long Island City providing transfers at the Woodside Station to other LIRR trains toward Penn Station and to the IRT #7 Subway Line. Additionally, other transfer to the IRT #7 Subway Line would also be available at Hunterspoint Avenue Station and also the Vernon Blvd. Station for LIRR trains terminating at Long Island City. Easy-to-understand schedules can show this. Our group will also be asking that New York City Transit to conduct a study of IRT # 7 Subway Line westbound ridership between the Queensboro Plaza Station and the Times Square Station in the AM rush hour peak period to address any current overcrowding conditions that may exist on that line. Based upon this study and the potential for additional transferring passengers from the LIRR Rockaway Line we will request that NYCT add at between four and ten additional IRT #7 trains to be operated only between the Queensboro Plaza Station and the Times Square Station during the AM peak rush hours when at times some westbound trains might be overcrowded. Unfortunately Mr. Penner’s solutions have more obstacles than those that are in the way of RBB restoration. The AirTrain plan that he suggests was raised in the 1990s but high costs, low ridership and reliance on Passenger Facilities Charge (PFC) funding that prevented the line’s use by non-airport travelers led to its demise. AirTrain’s PFC financing prohibits it from being ridden for Rockaways-Howard Beach-Jamaica trips or any future LaGuardia Airport connection he proposes thereby bypassing the neighborhoods the AirTrain travels through as the current system does at it travels between JFK and Jamaica along the Van Wyck Expressway corridor with no local stops along the way. As to ferry services Mr. Penner suggest they have limited reach, serving only the Rockaway peninsula. These vessels have large (6-member) crews to conform to U.S. Coast Guard regulations. They require high capacity expensive vessels and expensive operating costs like the excellent Seastreak fast ferries that run to Atlantic Highlands to safely and comfortably navigate the open water outside of New York Harbor. These ferries must dock far away from midtown destinations, which will force inconvenient transfers to buses or taxis or long walks to subway lines. Even the IRT #7 Subway Line extension will be a hike way from the piers. While this is less of an issue for long distance commuting like from Atlantic Highlands it is a much more serious one for shorter trips like those from the Rockaways. In the past these ferries from the Rockaways have always required subsidies to stay afloat and these ferries only operate in the summer months between late May and early September. As to improved buses, the MTA and the New York Department of Transportation examined Woodhaven Blvd as a bus rapid transit (BRT) route but placed it on the back burner in favor of other BRT candidates. A Woodhaven BRT/SBS option would be slower than rail and would permanently pour more travelers into the already-overcrowded Queens Blvd. subway trains. Additionally, BRT/SBS will take out a lane of traffic along Woodhaven/Cross Bay Blvd. creating more traffic and gridlock for motorists. Also separate and longer bus stops are required for BRT/SBS buses while limited stop buses now share the bus stops with local buses therefore BRT/SBS would also create less parking spaces for motorists along Woodhaven/Cross Bay Blvd. thereby negatively affecting quality of life and retail business. These liabilities will make the BRT/SBS less appealing than the RBB for commuters, residents, racino and convention and for air travelers. The reactivation of the RBB would provide speedy and cross borough service throughout Queens which would be utilized by many residents, racino and convention goers alike as well as by air travelers. Additionally it and would also provide economic development to South Queens and aide developers that want to draw new residents to the Rockaways but who have been daunted in the past by the long, uncomfortable commutes that the area now endures. Yours truly, Carl Perrera Regional Rail Working Group-Rockaway Subcommittee Co-Chair


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