The Trains Stopped Running Here 50 Years Ago
With Corbin’s death, the LIRR was no longer going to provide the link to New England. The Pennsylvania Railroad tended to treat the LIRR as a backwater line. It never developed its freight capabilities, according to Ziel. Long Island executives were eventually weeded out in favor of Pennsy executives who dismissed the vision of Corbin, Ziel says.
So the LIRR was going to be what it has been for over a century and remains today: A commuter railroad that brings people to and from New York City, where most of the jobs are.
But still there was the heritage of Corbin’s purchase. The NYW&R railroad ran across Jamaica Bay on a trestle of wooden piles. The problems of the wooden bridge—fires and winter woes—were numerous. They finally led to the LIRR ceasing service about 60 years after Corbin’s group took control of the road.
The bridge eventually became so much of a problem that the southern part of the line was sold to the New York City Transit Authority. After a fire in May 1950, the LIRR no longer offered service south of Jamaica Bay. In 1955, the line was sold to the Transit Authority and subway service began on the southern half of the branch the following year.
The northern section, the section that begins at Whitepot Junction, was leased back to the LIRR, which ended service on June 8, 1962. However, in the last seven years there was very little service on the northern part.
Still, even after the transfer of the Rockaway end of the branch to the Transit Authority, the LIRR continued to operate what was left of the branch between Ozone Park and Whitepot Junction. However, the line was in its death throes. In the last few years, service was down to just a few trains a day.
And in the summer of 1962, New York state, which had taken over the bankrupt LIRR from the Pennsy when it walked away from the problem plagued LIRR in the 1950s, ended what was left of the railroad’s Rockaway Beach service.
Was this the end of the line for the northern half of Rockaway Beach branch?
The debate continues to this day. Advocates of reactivating the line have not given up.
Indeed, a recent independent study project authored by urban planner David Krulewitch noted that the Rockaway Beach Branch (RBB) eventually had become more than a vacation railroad. As Queens grew up in the early and mid 20th century, many of the communities in Southern Queens became densely populated, quasi-suburban communities. They grew quickly, he argued, because there was direct railroad access from Manhattan.
“They were railroad suburbs for commuters into Midtown,” according to Krulewitch in his Get Me to the Beach! Rockaway Beach Branch Reactivation study. Indeed, by the early 20th century service was frequent, he says. The population and vehicle traffic grew so much that in many communities the trains had to be elevated.
For instance, on Metropolitan Avenue in Forest Hills, by what was once the Parkside stop, there is a marking that says 1908. That’s not when the line was built. As we have seen it was built more than 20 years before that. That’s when the grade crossing elimination took place.
The line was elevated above traffic, which was increasing by leaps and bounds in the early 20th century. Queens’ population exploded, especially after “the Great War”, or the war we today know as World War I.
However, 50 years after when the trains stopped, Krulewitch writes that many of the neighborhoods “became isolated from transit, especially in Glendale, Woodhaven and Ozone Park”. He contends that the neighborhood subway lines such as the J and A “were poor replacements for the RBB service”.
Reactivating the abandoned part of the Rockaway line has been discussed from time to time. The rationale of rail advocates is it would provide more train service from the growing Rockaways and Southern Queens to New York City.
Restoring the route was discussed when the Air Train proposal was under review several years ago. Likely, the unused Rockaway Beach route would have been much cheaper than building a new Air Train line since the LIRR still owns the right of way, according to rail advocates.
And Haikalis, the civil engineer, contends that because the route is generally straight, it would be relatively easy to reactivate the line.
Rockaway rail advocates also believe resurrecting the line would ease traffic demands on the overtaxed subway lines going through the center of the borough on Queens Boulevard.
Many Southern Queens residents now use these subway lines, then transfer to buses that serve parts of Woodhaven, Richmond Hill, Glendale and other Southern Queens communities.
But the reactivation plan always meets with considerable opposition. Some residents argue that would destroy their quality of life as well as the value of their homes.
It’s because the restored line would pass by the homes of hundreds of residents in Forest Hills, Glendale, Woodhaven, Richmond Hill and Ozone Park just as the LIRR’s Main Line from New York to Jamaica today passes by thousands of homes in Sunnyside, Forest Hills, Kew Gardens and Rego Park.
So, for the time being, the ghost trains will stay in their graves.
Gregory Bresiger is a business editor with Traders Magazine and its sister publication CQ&D. He also writes for the New York Post Sunday Business Section, Mises.com LewRockwell.com and Freedom Daily. He is also the author of the electronic book, “Personal Finance for People Who Hate Personal Finance.”