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QueensWay Supporters Urge MTA to Consider Downsides of Restoring Trains

By Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska | December 14, 2016 1:37pm
 Advocates for the QueensWay want to turn a 3.5 mile stretch of abandoned railroad tracks into a High Line-style park.
Advocates for the QueensWay want to turn a 3.5 mile stretch of abandoned railroad tracks into a High Line-style park.
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Friends of The QueensWay/ Facebook

QUEENS — As the MTA considers reviving an abandoned Long Island Rail Road track, supporters who want to turn it into Queens' version of the High Line want the agency to consider potential negative impacts of restoring rail service.

On Monday, the QueensWay proponents sent a letter to MTA Chairman Thomas Prendergast, highlighting their concerns, including train noise that would plague schools that have risen along the formerly abandoned rail line and loss of parkland, little league fields and other community spaces.

"There is a lot of concern in the community about the possibility of rail and we wanted to highlight to the MTA the various concerns that we've been hearing up and down about what it would mean, and to take those into consideration if they are doing their study," said Travis Terry of the Friends of the QueensWay, a community-based organization formed by volunteers living along the abandoned property.

For the past few years, the group has worked with The Trust for Public Land, to advocate transforming the derelict Rockaway Beach Rail Line into a 3.5-mile linear public park that would feature bike, jogging and walking paths, outdoor classroom space, cultural amenities and an adventure park

Friends of the QueensWay said that they are currently in the process of designing a first half-mile phase of the proposed park and that have already raised more than $2 million in private and public funding, including more than $900,000 from the NY State Regional Economic Development Council.

“The first half-mile phase could be completed and open to the public by 2020 as a City park,” the group said.

The idea faces opposition from groups like the Rockaway Transit Coalition and several elected officials, who support the reactivation of the train service — which they say would significantly shorten commuting time for thousands of Queens residents.

The rail line ran from Rego Park to Ozone Park until it closed in 1962 — and has since fallen into disrepair. Restoring the tracks would require a major renovation, said those familiar with the line.

In their letter, the Friends of the QueensWay said that potential rail reactivation could also destroy local community spaces that have developed since its closure.

"Since rail activity ended, a number of vital community facilities have sprung up along the rail line, including three new schools comprising the Metropolitan Education Campus on Metropolitan Avenue in Forest Hills and the Forest Hills and Ridgewood-Glendale Little Leagues," the group wrote.

"Rail reactivation would likely cause full or partial closure of little league fields, and significant noise would distract Metropolitan Campus students and bother thousands of local residents."

The group also claims that reactivation could lead to the loss of parkland as well as elimination of some of the current transportation options.

Aaron Donovan, a spokesman for the MTA, said in an email that the agency is “continuing to look at transportation options and ideas for the corridor and will review the letter."

He declined to provide more details about the assessment, which is currently underway. 

State Sen. Joseph Addabbo who supported the study, which was approved by the state budget, condemned the letter. 

"I'm hoping the MTA doesn't consider it because I believe the MTA will do a credible report on its own without any outside influence," he said.

Addabbo also said that the study which he expects to be complete in the spring next year, will determine whether there is a credible chance to reactivate the rail line or not.

He noted that while at this point he is trying to collect more information about all the options for the abandoned rail line, he is concerned about several aspects of the proposed QueensWay, including public safety, maintenance and funding.