Fed up with two-hour commutes from Rockaway to Manhattan and buses that are consistently overcrowded and late – or entirely missing in action – a group of Queens residents gathered on Metropolitan Avenue and Woodhaven Boulevard last Saturday in an effort to secure additional support for reactivating the Rockaway Beach Rail Line.
The Long Island Rail Road once operated the service, also known as the White Pot Junction Line, that took passengers from Rockaway to Rego Park, but the line stopped running in the 1960s. The LIRR sold the line to the city in 1962, but nothing has been done with it and litter, chipped paint and general disrepair have replaced the space where trains once ran.
“I’d love to see a real new Queens crosstown,” said Phil McManus, a Rockaway Park resident who founded the Queens Public Transit Committee – the group that organized Saturday’s rally. “People think the Rockaway Beach line just affects Rockaway, but it doesn’t – it goes throughout Queens to Rego Park. This is something that would benefit the entire borough.”
Queens Public Transit Committee members also held a petition drive at Jamaica Avenue and Woodhaven Boulevard on Sunday to collect signatures in support of reactivating the line.
A number of elected officials have also thrown their support behind reopening a train line between the Rockaways and mainland Queens, including Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Rockaway Park) and U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-Queens, Brooklyn) – both of whom have lamented the limited mass transportation options Rockaway and South Queens residents have available to them.
McManus, for example, said the Q53 bus that runs from Rockaway to Woodside is constantly so overcrowded that residents have to wait for another bus before being able to board.
“Before the hurricane, I was complaining about the Q53, and then, after the hurricane, we were out there all by ourselves,” McManus said. “The hurricane is a major reason why people in Rockaway are more active now about public transportation – they’re fed up with the lack of listening.”
Not everyone is happy with the idea of reactivating the rail line, and a group of residents have called for 3.5 miles of the abandoned rail track to be transformed into a parkland similar to Manhattan’s High Line.
Park supporters have said such a transformation would benefit hundreds of thousands of residents and would provide an easily accessible bikeway on which individuals could commute to work.
But for people like McManus, Goldfeder and Jeffries, the Rockaway line would be instrumental in bringing people to and from the peninsula – and could provide a much-needed economic boost to the peninsula that was destroyed in Hurricane Sandy.
“If the city of New York wants to grow – and I don’t mean just Manhattan but if the city wants Queens, the businesses around the casino, to grow, you need public transportation,” McManus said. “Rockaway, Howard Beach, Ozone Park – we’ve all been affected. After you leave Woodhaven and Rego Park, public transportation drastically stops. You’re forced to be on an overcrowded bus – there’s really no other option.”
By Anna Gustafson