What is White Pot Junction? And Why Should I Care?


| editorial@queenscourier.com |



By Vincent S. Castellano

 

On March 13, Community Board 14 in Rockaway unanimously voted to re-open the old LIRR line between Aqueduct and Queens Blvd. This line has been closed so long, most people don’t even know it exists. Yet it is the key to the future of mass transit in Queens. Many people call it White Pot Junction, but that is not correct.

 

White Pot Junction is actually the bastardized Dutch name for the area in Kew Gardens where the Rockaway line splits off the LIRR mainline to head south to the Rockaway Peninsula.  When service began on the line in the early part of the 20th century this entire line was called the Rockaway Beach Branch.  The line goes straight south from Kew Gardens past Forest Park, Richmond Hill, Ozone Park, Aqueduct, JFK, Howard Beach and Broad Channel. The line split into two branches on the Rockaway Peninsula with the Far Rockaway Branch returning to the LIRR (via Valley Stream) forming a loop. During the depression, the Rockaway Beach Branch provided a 35 minute ride from Penn Station to Rockaway. Could you imagine such a thing today?

 

In 1952, NYC purchased the entire Rockaway Beach Branch from White Pot Junction to Far Rockaway, and severed the connection with the LIRR Far Rockaway Branch which remains in service today.  Originally, the NYC Board of Transportation planned to link the Rockaway Beach Branch to the subway under Queens Blvd. just east of the 63rd Drive Station.  It was never built.

 

When the NYC Transit Authority took over the City’s mass transit, it connected the southern portion of the Rockaway Beach Branch to the A train and discontinued use of the 3.5 mile section between Aqueduct and Queens Blvd. The right of way is still there, but the abandoned tracks have not been used since 1962.

 

By disconnecting the northern part of the Rockaway Beach Branch, the powers that be severed train service between south and north Queens. Have you ever wondered why a Rockaway train has to go through Manhattan to go to Flushing? This is why.

 

When the old Board of Estimate approved Rockaway for the subway, at the last moment the route was changed from the Rockaway Beach Branch as proposed by Robert Moses to the much longer A train route through Brooklyn. The Board of Estimate made this decision in private. There is no record of what was said, and there has never been an explanation for the sudden change in route. Speculation abounds.

 

However, no one can argue that after 60 years of supposed mass transit improvements, a 40 minute ride from south Queens to Manhattan is now twice that. Please join me in thanking all the well paid public servants who made this possible.

 

Today, many cast covetous eyes on this unused right of way. Some people, in the borough of parks, living just blocks from the sprawling Forest Park, claim that they need yet another park. They claim all alternate uses are unnecessary, undesirable and intrusive. These same people have a 30 minute commute to Manhattan yet feel no shame in denying it to others. It’s the familiar “I got mine, screw you.” attitude.

 

Borough leadership centered in the Kew Gardens area has always opposed this plan for political reasons. They don’t want their streets torn up to provide a benefit to southern Queens. NIMBY. Borough President Helen Marshall promises to study it. She has been borough president for 10 years yet so busy with renaming streets that she just has not had time to find solutions to traffic congestion in Queens. I do hope the sound of leadership from Albany is not too stressful for her.

 

Let me suggest that the best plan for the future of Queens is the original one from 1952. Re-establish the connection between the existing A train at Aqueduct and White Pot Junction in Kew Gardens. This can be done simply by adding new NYCTA tracks on the 3.5 mile northern branch thereby making the connection to Queens Blvd.  There the old Rego Park Station (near 63rd Drive) could be rebuilt as a transportation hub providing transfers between the subway and the LIRR mainline. The Rego Park Station is less than 10 minutes from Penn Station.

 

This short 3.5 mile stretch of track effectively connects the A, E, J, M, R and Z subway lines to the LIRR. In addition, it runs parallel to Woodhaven Blvd so it will reduce congestion there. It also crosses Jamaica Avenue, Atlantic Avenue and Metropolitan Avenue and terminates in the vicinity of Junction Blvd, Queens Blvd and the LIE.  If you had to create this right of way today the cost would be staggering. Yet this priceless public asset (paid for with taxpayer dollars) just sits there collecting rust for the last 50 years. Have we elected the wrong people to manage public assets?

 

Making the new Rego Park Station a transportation hub in the center of Queens also makes other transportation options possible. Limited/Select bus services could be established from the Rego Park Station to LaGuardia Airport, Citifield, Queens College and Flushing. This would be a one transfer, one fare connection between north and south in Queens. It would finally make Queens College accessible in practice and not just in theory.

 

Re-establishing the Rockaway Beach Branch would also reduce vehicular traffic and congestion since this plan is cheaper, faster and more efficient than existing mass transit plans and current vehicular options within Queens. Congestion on the Van Wyck is legendary and getting more notorious by the day. Woodhaven Blvd and Queens Blvd are getting so bad they are damaging the quality of life of their neighbors.  We can try to fix these problems or we can take the lead from Borough Hall and pretend they don’t exist.

 

Environmentalists who claim they want to reduce vehicular traffic and gasoline consumption will be hard pressed to oppose this Rockaway Beach Branch plan. It would take thousands of cars off the road. How much cleaner will the air be? How much faster would the remaining traffic move? Or perhaps these local environmentalists are as sincere as the Kennedy’s of Massachusetts, who are in favor of wind energy provided windmills are not in their view.

 

Re-establishing the Rockaway Beach Branch would be the most important mass transit improvement in Queens since the building of the IND Subway line under Queens Blvd. in the 1930′s. This truly is a shovel ready job.

 

All we lack is the will and the leadership.

 

 

 

Vincent S. Castellano, a Rockaway native, is a member of CB14’s Transportation Committee and a former Chair of CB14. He would like to acknowledge the contributions of John Rozankowski, writer and mass transit advocate, to this article.

  • Danny Ruscillo Jr.

    Great article Vince….

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  • P. Beadle

    I am all for mass transit as I am a daily user of it. But this idea, as grand as it seems at first blush is actually short sighted and proves the writer has never toured the line or understands the neighborhoods it runs through. First and foremost, we should all be clear on something. The writer’s justification for creating this line is somewhat specious: the Rockaways has affordable mass transit that connects it to the rest of Queens, Brooklyn and all of Manhattan. Perhaps not a 30 minute ride to Midtown, but where are the statistics to prove that so many Rockaway residents actually have a commute to Midtown or would be willing to pay an LIRR fare instead of $2.25 for the existing subway. MTA ridership numbers actually show that Rockaway stations have some of the lowest numbers in the system. What is being argued here is not the creation of a train line for the Rockaways but an upgrade in service, which I am sure many New Yorkers would love to have. The Rockaways suffer no particular or unique disadvantage and are actually better off than many parts of the City and larger Metropolitan region that lack any train service at all.

    Further the idea that White Pot Junction could be turned into a transit hub in central Queens is absurd. This writer evidently has never visited Rego Park (not Kew Gardens as he misidentifies the location of the line) or he would know that the Shalimar Diner now sits in what was once the parking lot for the old train station. And he would know that all routes into the old train station have been built over. Which buildings does he propose to tear down to build his transit hub? He also would know that 63rd Drive, the only major commercial road running past White Pot Junction is already an over taxed roadway that is bumper to bumper at rush hour and weekends when everyone is either trying to reach the LIE or the nearby shopping malls. There is simply no capacity to build a transportation hub here.

    And that is before you get to the parks, ball fields, parking lots and possibly homes that would face eminent domain seizure and destruction to build the line. And it would be “building” not “reactivating” as not a single piece of usable infrastructure remains on the right-of-way, and erosion has undermined much of the rail bed. During the intervening 50+ years, many buildings, including schools and homes have been built very close to the right-of-way and modern rail safety standards would likely require their condemnation and demolition to enable a widening of the line.

    There are alternatives. Selective Bus Service up Cross-Bay and Woodhaven Blvd’s would greatly increase transportation options for not just the relatively few midtown commuters, but for everyday people who need to shop, and pick kids up from school and visit friends and relatives; tasks a train with few stops and connections would not be very helpful for. Also there is an existing subterranean LIRR Station under Atlantic Avenue in Woodhaven that could be reactivated providing residents in that area with access to downtown Brooklyn and Jamaica and points on Long Island. These would be better ways to spend our transit dollars.

    As for the Right-of-Way itself it still should be considered for use as a transportation corridor, but one that ties the neighborhoods along its length together instead of flying over them on the way to midtown. It can be used as a corridor that enables people to travel door to door faster than most other forms of transportation, provides access to neighborhood schools and shopping, connects to busses and subway lines and simultaneously provides an accessible and beautiful recreation space; particularly in the park starved and under serviced neighborhoods at the southern end of the line. As a bikeway, the right-of-way can be reborn as a transportation corridor without destroying other parks, condemning parking lots or buildings, and without destroying the quality of life of those who live along it. As Bike Share starts in July and over the next few years begins spreading through Queens, the right-of-way is uniquely positioned to take advantage of New York’s latest mode of public transportation. I love trains, but we cannot be carried away with this alleged one-size-solves-all solution that ignores the realities of the neighborhoods the right-of-way runs through.

    • Vince Castellano

      Obviously another greenway/bikeway apologist. He/she obviously has never taken the A train from Rockaway to Manhattan and he/she apparently doesn’t know that i grew up within blocks of this rail line. I recognize NIMBY when i see it, and so does everyone else.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/justin.samuels2 Justin Samuels

    This is not just about improved access to the Rockaways. With a casino open, and a convention center with hotels coming to an area near aqueduct, Genting, which is now becoming a major employer in Queens, would like much faster train service to the Aqeduct area and they are willing to pay for part of the costs. That’s why talk of restoring LIRR service to this branch has now come back. And no one is going to bike to the casino, or is interested in a trail path to the casino. Particularly since Genting is willing to pay for part of the costs, and since Albany is now considering funding the rest of this, we’re lucky to get this attention in Queens.

    Residents of the Rockaways would benefit from this, mind you, and it would be an easier sell for real estate developers who build homes there. Oh, since some people take public transportation to the airport/JFK, they’d benefit as well. And money always talks. Some residents opposed air train construction to JFK, but the Port Authority did it anyway, and thank god.

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