Challenges on restoration of Long Island Rail Road services to Rockaway Beach

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No one should make any plans to wait for a train to arrive at any new station along the old Rockaway Beach Long Island Rail Road branch that ran between Rego Park to Ozone Park and further south to the Rockaways 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 Beach 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 the Aqueduct Race Track.

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.

Don’t forget the logistical and operational issues of running any LIRR service parallel to the existing subway line to the Rockaways. Construction thru the Jamaica Bay wetlands will also provide challenges.

Will existing bus and or subway commuters want to pay the higher fares charged by the LIRR? Riders would still have to pay twice when transferring from the LIRR to the subway at Atlantic Avenue Brooklyn, Woodside Queens, Penn Station or Grand Central Terminal. LIRR service to the Rockaways would at a minimum be considered Zone 3 just like other Queens neighborhoods. Current fares for Zone 3 LIRR riders are $210 for a monthly or $67.25 for a weekly. A ten trip peak is $110.00, off-peak ten trip$59.50, senior ten trip $47.50, peak one way $11.00 and off peak one way $8.00. You can imagine how much more these fares would be years or even decades later when passenger revenue service is finally introduced.

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. Amtrak’s $14 billion dollar “Gateway” project will provide additional capacity west of Penn Station from New Jersey is designed to run more trains into Penn Station. Train slots have to be shared among LIRR, Amtrak and New Jersey Transit. There is no real opportunity for expansion of capacity at Penn Station until the new LIRR Eastside Access project is complete. This will provide new connections to Grand Central Terminal when reaching beneficial use currently forecast for 2019. Both Amtrak and Metro-North Rail Road have their eyes on any potential spare capacity which might become available at Penn Station to use for their own respective services. Who knows if the LIRR even with new service to Grand Central Terminal will give up any slots for service into Penn Station on existing branches to support restoration of the Rockaway Beach line.

At the end of the day, introduction of limited stop bus routes from two fare zones to the nearest subway station, expansion of express bus service into Manhattan, creation of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) and subsidies to support ferry service may be the best bet for residents looking for new transportation options for travel to other destinations. All three have already been proven successful. Any could be implemented far more quickly than any restoration of old LIRR services.