2017-03-08 / Front Page

QCC Has Meeting On Queensway/QueensRail

By Thomas Cogan
At a Queens Chamber of Commerce meeting in the Bulova Center at the end of February, two speakers debated the fate of a three-and-a-half-mile stretch of disused railroad track-bed, one proposing it be converted to parkland, the other saying it should be recreated as, of all things, a railroad.  Once it was part of the Rockaway Beach line, running from Rego Park in the north to Ozone Park in the south.  It was abandoned in 1962, reportedly because it was little-used.  More than a half-century later, when there is a currently a drive to build a trolley line in Queens and Brooklyn, where the last one died exactly a half-century ago, in 1957, there is a reconsideration that some things old should be new again. 

But this was a debate, and the parks advocate, noting the success of Manhattan’s High Line, another abandoned length of railroad made into a nature walk, said that what he called Queensway is much longer and far larger and, since it is in Queens, would be so accommodating to the various neighborhoods along the way that it would become what he called the most culturally driven slice of nature in the world.

Bret Swanson of the QCC introduced Travis Terry as a member of Friends of Queensway and Rick Horan as representing QueensRail.  Terry’s Queensway vs. Highline figures revealed that Queensway would be two and a half times as long and more than seven times as large.  He envisioned 47 acres of new park and safe walking and biking for three and a half miles in both directions.  He spoke of connecting all Queens parks by bicycle routes and a place for outdoor classes for school kids in good weather amidst nature’s bounty.  But that is indeed visionary at this time, because much of the old route is currently what isolated and unused places often are:  a dumping ground for junk, a resort for drug addicts and a place where, as Horan later commented, “high school students do what high school students have always done.”  Compared to the daredevil activity of biking on Queens or Woodhaven Boulevards, biking on the Queensway would provide more safety and less air pollution for riders.

Horan, speaking for QueensRail, said the Rockaway Line connected the Whitepot Station in Rego Park to the station in Ozone Park and provided north-south connection.  At the time it was abandoned, ridership was low and vehicle expressways were under construction or being planned.  That was the future, and as for the few riders who needed the north-south link, they could switch routes and eventually reach their destination by detouring through—Manhattan!  Well, he believes, it’s time to forget the assumptions of another era and re-establish the connection, one that will be of service to a larger population.  Horan said that in contrast to the Brooklyn-Queens Connector (BQX), construction of QueensRail would involve little or no seizure of property by eminent domain (though Terry said that Little League baseball fields in Forest Hills, built after the line was abandoned, would have to be uprooted).  Resorts World, the casino at Aqueduct loves the idea, Horan said, and Kennedy Airport would have a one-seat ride from Manhattan, if a cooperative plan with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority could be established.

He said that if QueensTrain weren’t so rail-oriented, its advocates would probably favor parkland, though he added that Queens already has an abundance of parkland.  He said the Parks Department issued a parks plan for the Rockaways in 2010, which was meant to rescue areas there that were seriously dilapidated.  Some seven years later nothing further has been done and what had been a wreck before is in even worse condition now (as he showed with pictures).  The neighborhoods that Terry mentioned so admiringly would be even better off with improved transportation, Horan said, and property values would rise.  There probably would be little or no problem of noise, he added, because current rail technology can abate it considerably.

QCC Executive Director Thomas Grech asked if a rail-and-parks-together compromise is possible.  Terry said no, because there’s too little room for both; and he brought up the unacceptability of tearing up the Little League fields in Forest Hills.  Among the questions was one about the cost of each plan.  Horan, speaking about QueensRail, said he didn’t have a firm estimation but thought $1 billion might be sufficient to build a new line, though a connection to the subway, which he desires, would be another matter.  Terry estimated that the cost to build Queensway could be between $120-140 million.

Before any QueensRail-subway connection can be decided, the MTA must complete its feasibility study.  If the study concluded the connection to QueensRail is not feasible, Horan was asked, would he become a QueensWay advocate?  He said he was confident the study would be favorable and made no further comment.


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