Elected officials and advocates are campaigning for the revival of a long-closed LIRR line in the hopes that plans for the nation’s largest convention center at Aqueduct will not be derailed.
Assemblymember Phillip Goldfeder said the convention center delay — which will now wait until voters decide on gaming laws next November — could ultimately help the campaign and plan for a Rockaway Long Island Rail Road route that serves south Queens.
“As far as I’m concerned there’s actually a silver lining,” he said. “I think everybody agrees, whether it’s a convention center or a casino, Aqueduct is right for a railway development.”
Currently, the area through which the now-defunct line once ran is owned by either the city or several entities who bought properties after it folded in 1962. There have been talks of turning the overgrown area into a nature walkway, similar to the High Line in Manhattan. An MTA spokesperson said the transit authority did not have any plans currently to revive the line.
The land can be taken back for LIRR, however, if the city or MTA choose to revive the line, according to Lew Simon, district leader. Simon has advocated the rebirth of the line since 1997 and has plans for it to be reinstated.
He compared a ride to Howard Beach on the current “A” train service — an hour and 40 minutes, he estimates — to a railroad ride, which could be under 40.
“The old Rockaway Beach line and the railroad is a win-win,” Simon said, meaning that it would not only provide a quicker commute to a growing workforce in the area, but would spark more initiative for either a convention center or other venue at Aqueduct.
The push for better, faster rail service had been a deciding factor in getting a convention center to Queens. Goldfeder said no matter the outcome, he wanted a line that would provide quick service to Aqueduct — as the planned property would eventually be developed into something.
“Aqueduct is right for development, and Queens should finally get the transportation we deserve,” he said. “I’m excited about dealing with the challenges that may arrive as we look to improve transportation for the entire borough of Queens.”
Ed Wendell, president of the Woodhaven Residents Block Association, said while the railway could be a good idea, the community would have to have its say once plans were drawn up. Wendell had been hopeful the line would be back, but with the news of the convention center plans shutting down he said it’s now less likely.
“We would never presume to make a decision on what is the community’s opinion,” he said, “not without really consulting with the residents.”
Any progress, however, is still in the earliest of stages, all have said. The timing, Goldfeder said, is the key advantage though.
“Even absent a convention center, we’re very likely to get some form of a responsible development,” he said. “We have more time to organize, we have more time to explore the various opportunities.”