QUEENS — A push for a study to run a light rail on an underutilized portion of the Long Island Rail Road track between Jamaica and Long Island City just got the nod from Community Board 6.
The so-called "Lower Montauk Branch" runs just north of the Newtown Creek, then through Maspeth, Ridgewood, Glendale, Woodhaven and Richmond Hill, and currently carries freight trains only.
But Queens elected officials claim that the route could also carry light rail, which would benefit the neighborhoods along the line, some of which have very few public transportation options.
“I think it would drastically improve commuting experience for many people who live along the line right now and spend too much time commuting to work,” said Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley who represents Glendale, Maspeth and Ridgewood.
Earlier this week, Crowley, who has been pushing for the project since last summer, gave a presentation about the project at a CB6 meeting.
Last week, she also wrote a letter to the city’s Department of Transportation asking the agency to fund the study to determine the feasibility of light rail on the Lower Montauk line. The entire borough’s City Council delegation signed the letter.
“Studies show that 41 percent of residents live and work in Queens, and average commute times reach as high as 40 minutes each way,” Crowley wrote in the letter. “Existing travel conditions for residents are inconvenient and arduous, and it is vital we take advantage of any opportunity to lift this burden.”
The councilwoman has been presenting her proposal and asking for support of all community boards that would be affected by her plan. She said she had already spoken to CB2, which covers Long Island City, and CB5 which includes Ridgewood, Glendale and Maspeth. She is also planning to visit CB9, which includes Woodhaven and Richmond Hill, and CB12 which covers Jamaica, she said.
The Lower Montauk Branch is currently used by freight trains that are run by the New York & Atlantic Railway, according to the MTA.
Until 2012, the LIRR operated one passenger train per day in each direction between Jamaica and Long Island City, the MTA said. But the agency later shifted all service to the main line, because it also stops at the Woodside and Hunterspoint Avenue stations, both of which have connections to the 7 subway line, according to the MTA.
Following Crowley's presentation, members of CB6, which covers Forest Hills and Rego Park, asked her to discuss issues like building stations for light rail along the line, frequency of service and the possibility of operating light rail and freight trains on the same set of tracks.
Crowley said that light rail does not require building large stations and noted that in her opinion a reliable service provides trains at least every 10 minutes. She also said it is possible to operate both light rail and freight trains on the same tracks.
"It looks like something that can be done in a short run and I think it makes a lot of sense," said John Dereszewski, head of Board 6's Transportation Committee, before the board voted to support the study.
A spokesman for the DOT said that the agency has discussed a potential study of the rail line, but did not elaborate.