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Union Tpke

Former NYC Councilwoman pushes to renew passenger rail service on forgotten Queens tracks

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A little-used stretch of train tracks in Queens could be the key to filling transit deserts in the borough, community leaders say.

The Long Island Railroad’s Lower Montauk branch, which runs 8.5 miles between Long Island City and Jamaica, could be used to bring new passenger rail service to communities like Maspeth and Glendale, which do not have subway stops.

The LIRR ran commuter trains along the line until 1998, when the Metropolitan Transportation Authority closed its stops due in part to low ridership. Now, the tracks service freight trains and are used as an extra storage space for Sunnyside Yard.

The chief advocate of the project, dubbed the QNS, is former Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Queens). She commissioned an independent feasibility study in 2017, which was completed shortly after she left office in early 2018.

The proposal would bring nine stops to the stretch, and would cost an estimated $2.2 billion to pull off, and serve roughly 21,000 weekday riders. 

“Queens is not getting its fair share of transit and local residents feel beyond frustrated with their daily commutes times,” said Crowley. “Trains would run on existing MTA owned rights of way, the line could be used immediately without eminent domain.”

Crowley said the bulk of the up-front costs for the line would be paid for by selling off MTA air rights and tax schemes like transit oriented development — and half of the money would go towards upgrading freight operations.

Because the MTA already owns the tracks, the project would cost $259 million per mile to complete. That’s a lot less than the $2.5 billion the agency spent building each mile of the Second Avenue subway, which in 2017 had about 69,000 paying riders each weekday.

MTA officials say Crowley’s project may be too expensive for the number of riders it would serve.

“As the report notes, this proposal would pose serious challenges to the MTA, in the form of high operating and capital costs at a time of substantial deficits," said MTA spokesman Max Young.

This rendering shows how a train stop would help one Queens community boom. 

Community leaders and advocates of the project disagree with that assessment, noting that the areas it will serve expect to boom in the coming years.

“Look at the growth in Long Island City and the growth in the Jamaica downtown area and at JFK Airport,” said longtime transportation consultant Philippa Karteron, an advocate of the project. “If we could put something like this together, the corridor could be an economic development corridor, bringing in businesses, bringing in jobs.”

Unlike the BQX, another Queens-oriented transit project, Crowley’s idea isn’t supported by real estate developers — she says she’s working to form a grassroots campaign that has community boards involved from the get-go.

“You just can’t get to some places in Queens without going into Manhattan and coming back out again,” said Dorothy Morehead of Queens Community Board 3. “That’s crazy, I think it (the line) would be very good for everybody.”

All of the community boards along the proposed route supported commissioning the study for the line — now Crowley says it’s just a matter of mustering support for additional transit in an area that’s relatively underserved by NYC Transit.

“The study showed robust ridership, with opportunity for job and housing growth,” said Crowley. “Far too many of the residents use cars and Ubers rather than public transit. The trains would reduce commute times and take cars off the road.”

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35 minutes ago, Union Tpke said:

MTA officials say Crowley’s project may be too expensive for the number of riders it would serve.

This. I agree it may be useful, but it won't generate so much ridership in comparison with SAS or Utica. I think even the Triboro might be even more useful to pursue first (but maybe I'm biased, who knows). I feel like we all have said the same thing about these sorts of projects millions of times already.

Edited by Bay Ridge Express
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Given that it can't be converted to subway use due to numerous reasons, I could only see this be reactivated as another line of Triboro RX... (you would have a Jackson Heights-New Utrecht line and a LIC-Jamaica one that would use the Atlantic platforms while the Atlantic branch would become a bypass or something).

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On 4/14/2019 at 8:00 PM, R68OnBroadway said:

Given that it can't be converted to subway use due to numerous reasons, I could only see this be reactivated as another line of Triboro RX... (you would have a Jackson Heights-New Utrecht line and a LIC-Jamaica one that would use the Atlantic platforms while the Atlantic branch would become a bypass or something).

I had a Similar response to what you're saying on Twitter. The only good thing I see out of reactivating Lower Montauk for Passenger Rail is the potential (re)Development around the ares that it would serve. An Example would be to redevelop Atlas Park so that it can be a more attractive point of Interest. This in my opinion, should be done in addition to TOD which can also allow for better connection to Neighboring Bus Routes along the ROW. However, the Lower Montauk is just short of a few connections to the (7)(M) and (J)(Z) Lines and thus, faces similar issues to RBB, which can also fall under this RX-like system that you speak of. You can read that here:

http://ltvsquad.com/2015/10/28/a-better-plan-for-queens-transit-needs/

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4 hours ago, LaGuardia Link N Tra said:

I had a Similar response to what you're saying on Twitter. The only good thing I see out of reactivating Lower Montauk for Passenger Rail is the potential (re)Development around the ares that it would serve. An Example would be to redevelop Atlas Park so that it can be a more attractive point of Interest. This in my opinion, should be done in addition to TOD which can also allow for better connection to Neighboring Bus Routes along the ROW. However, the Lower Montauk is just short of a few connections to the (7)(M) and (J)(Z) Lines and thus, faces similar issues to RBB, which can also fall under this RX-like system that you speak of. You can read that here:

http://ltvsquad.com/2015/10/28/a-better-plan-for-queens-transit-needs/

The RX is practically FULL of connections: you have the (R) (N)(D)(F)(Q)(2)(5)(3)(A)(C)(L)(J)(Z)(M) (most in Brooklyn) and then Jackson Heights (E)(F)(R)(M)(7) , if not also greatly reducing speed for intra-borough travel. 

 

IMO, the Lower Montauk branch would probably be an OK bypass from LIC to Jamaica (lest the already-overcrowded (E) and (F) or LIRR do not suffice), but other than that, I don't see much benefit to it.

Edited by Bay Ridge Express

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I see two issues with reactivating the line.

the CURES NIMBIES who still won't shut up.

and the whiners trying to understand why it doesn't go to Penn station (had to deal with THAT personally a few times.)

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Lower Montauk? That branch will literally serve Industries along the western end! 

I can think of so many other way to fill the transit deserts in Queens and that including RBL and Triboro RX. 

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Every single time this comes up, people neglect to mention that 

-The LM helps keep tons of freight out of the beds of trucks, helping the environment and traffic by serving most of West Queens's industries

-The LM keeps the LIRR Main speedy because it prevents LIRR and NYA traffic from conflicting within the city

-The majority of areas served by the LM are transit deserts, sure, but also are little-populated industrial backwaters that don't need subway service as pressingly as, say, Southeast Brooklyn or Southern Queens.

LM passenger revival would also either need time separation (which conflicts with Waste Management garbage operations) or FRA-Approved stock (which would be an investment, especially if it was stock the LIRR could not maintain.) This will remain a pipe dream for the forseeable future.

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