Runaway Train Not In Rockaway’s Future
Much of the hope for the reopening of White Pot Junction hinged on the plans for a $4 billion world class convention center and hotel at the site of Aqueduct. But 50 years to the date that it was formally shut down, the former LIRR line appears to be dead once again, at least for the time being.
Even though Governor Cuomo said this week that talks with Genting, Resorts World Casino’s operator, “haven’t really worked out,” the abandoned rail line’s biggest advocate, Assemblyman Phillip Goldfeder, vowed to continue pushing for alternatives to reopen the former Rockaway Beach line of the LIRR and most importantly, alternative ways to pay for it.
“The governor’s announcement that plans for the convention center are not moving forward will not slow down our momentum. This rail line will be an economic engine for the entire borough of Queens and it must be a priority,” an optimistic Goldfeder said this week.
The reopening of the Rockaway Beach line was ripe for opportunity if Genting had agreed to terms to go through with the hotel and convention center. The rail line would have been used to bring customers directly from points in Manhattan to Aqueduct and simultaneously serve as a new commuting option for Southern Queens. Reports indicated that the restoration would be paid for in part with private funding which became a selling point for its advocates. The tim- ing seemed perfect considering that in recent years Rockaway began advocating heavily for the line to be reopened since the population of the peninsula soared over the past ten years with thousands of new housing units sprouting up all over Rockaway.
Goldfeder toured the abandoned Rockaway Beach Rail Line this week to explore ways to restore service to the more than half a century old track which would cut the commute time down to 40 minutes or less for residents in Southern Queens and Rockaway.
“We have been fighting well before Genting was even in the picture,” Goldfeder told The Wave. “We will not slow down the effort to build the rail line. There’s so many reasons why it’s a good idea.”
According to reports, the talks between the governor and Genting broke apart over concerns about the future of a constitutional amendment passing that would allow full-fledged casinos in the state and demands by Genting that no other casino be built in the area to rival their multi-billion dollar investment.
The amendment to the constitution would have to pass in 2013, and then would be placed on a statewide referendum ballot in order for casinos to become legalized in New York.
Cuomo insisted, however, that the talks are not dead and the state is accepting bids from other companies as well as alternate locations. Basically, Queens, the site of Aqueduct specifically is not a deal breaker for the State by any means. Should Genting back out altogether, the likelihood of another operator building at Aqueduct, however, is next to none considering the investment Genting has made in Resorts World Casino.
Therefore, if the rail line is solely dependent on Genting building a convention center, which Goldfeder says is not the case, then this is bad news for Rockaway’s hopes of reopening the line.
As far as funding goes, Goldfeder says, there’s plenty of ways to get public infrastructure projects funded, especially one that will create jobs for the local community and put people to work whether it comes from the federal, state or local level.
“Investing money in something that will benefit this many people is a nobrainer. We will keep going until we cannot be stopped. This is not bad news. We just need to take a step back and reevaluate our options,” Goldfeder said.
The rail line is one of the smaller items in a big picture for the state’s negotiations, but holds a significant impact for many Queens residents. The announcement came just two weeks removed from what seemed to be a growing battle between Forest Hills homeowners and advocates of the rail line.
New York City Councilwomen Karen Koslowitz had vowed at a recent Community Board 6 meeting to do everything in her power to make sure the railway didn’t happen.
The reasoning for her constituents is simple. For those living on the rail line’s path, the idea of a train barreling through their neighborhood would lower property values and taint their quality of life. Reportedly an estimated 60 homes lie near or against the former LIRR line which cuts north to south through central Queens. There’s another side of the argument, however, with a group that would rather see the rail line become a highline type park instead of a thoroughfare for Southern Queens commuters. Should a rail line project be squashed, the calling for a park may once again pick up some momentum, especially if the MTA, which owns the tracks, shows no interest in reviving the line.
People in Rockaway, however, need better transportation options, Goldfeder believes. His online petition, which can be found at www.rockawaybeachrail.com, has already garnered more than 2,000 signatures since he launched it last month.