Not So Fast LIRR
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.