Sunday, October 2, 2011

Yay or Nay?

New Rails or New Trails?

Photo by AAPremlall

There has been much debate about what the Queens community wants and the LIRR has in store for this beautiful, crumbling abandoned railroad. 

I cannot say I wasn't delighted to read The Wave's article: MTA Derails Rockaway LIRR Plan

A study revealed 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.

"Face it, easy access to JFK is a smokescreen for what planners really want: increased commuter service for wealthy Long Islanders who work in the Financial District. Since the Rockaway Branch can't provide that, it's best future is as a bicycle path," commented Michael Deitsch succinctly after examining both sides in his blog.

Supportive actions have been made as indicated in Dreams and Schemes for an Abandoned Rail Line: "A bikeway would take this old, abandoned ugly structure and, if you have tree plantings on it and you could beautify it, it would add to the community," said Mary Ann Carey, district manager of Board 9. "It's not something that's going to happen overnight, but we know there is precedent for it." and "That line runs right behind all our homes and properties on 98th Street," Ms. Maria Thomson, Executive Director of the Greater Woodhaven Development Corporation said, "and if it were reactivated, it would be a hazard to the residents and their quality of life."

And some semi-supportive ones as well: "A bike path for the next 20 or 30 years might not be so bad," Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer, said. "It's a very comfortable use for it in comparison to selling it and putting a building on it. But I'd really like to reactivate it."

What do you think? Would a park in this area be worthwhile? Looking forward to your insights!

Once Upon a Time

Back in the day, the now abandoned LIRR site in South Queens was quite the looker:

In the early days of the IND subway line, there was a plan to attach the LIRR Rockaway Beach Branch line to the IND subway. However, the Depression forced the IND to shelve that plan...but not before installing signage in some of its stations pointing to a Rockaway connection that was never built!

So, the line remained with the LIRR until 1953. Frequent fires on the wooden trestle crossing Jamaica Bay impelled the LIRR to toss in the towel on the old line. It was purchased by New York City, which rebuilt the tracks and began subway service to the Rockaways in 1956.

The northern end of the line above Liberty Avenue remained in service until 1962, when declining patronage convinced the LIRR to close it down.

The right of way of the old line has remained surprisingly intact over the years, and in some places, tracks and overpasses are still in place. This has given some transit visionaries the idea to reactivate it as a one-seat ride to JFK Airport, but since it now runs through a residential neighborhood, it's unlikely that the locals will allow that to happen.

The branch of the LIRR we walked on was constructed in 1908-09 and connected the LIRR with the Rockaway Peninsula. It diverged from the main line at a point just east of the 63rd Drive overpass known as the Whitepot Underjump. The branch point wasn't called a 'junction' because northbound trains passed into a short tunnel under the main line and then merged. All of the Rockaway Branch featured state of the art appointments, which meant no grade crossings, electrification and signals. Most of the branch was on an embankment or elevated over main streets.

The Rockaway Branch featured stations at Grand Street (now Grand Avenue), Rego Park (which were on the Main Line but were stops only for Rockaway Branch trains), Parkside, Brooklyn Manor, Woodhaven [Junction], Ozone Park, Aqueduct, Howard Beach, Hamilton Beach, Goose Creek, The Raunt, Broad Channel, and the myriad stations on the peninsula. Many of the stations were of wooden construction, and no trace of them remains today except a widening of the space between trackways. Two stations made of concrete, Woodhaven and Ozone Park, are still there. In 1956, Aqueduct, Howard Beach, Broad Channel and the peninsula stations were taken over by the TA as subway stations.

Sources: Herbert George, Change At Ozone Park, © 1993 RAE Publishing