Brooklyn Boro

The Triboro line: A real possibility, or pie-in-the-sky? Experts weigh in.

October 30, 2019 Alex Williamson
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The MTA announced earlier this month that it would study a plan to build part of the Triboro RX, a 24-mile rail line that would carry passengers from the Brooklyn Army Terminal to Co-Op City in the Bronx along existing, above-ground freight lines. The Triboro would make 22 stops and link up 17 subways and four commuter lines, offering many more options to move between the boroughs without traveling through Manhattan.

Bringing passenger service to the line — an idea first proposed by transit advocacy group the Regional Plan Association in the 1990s — would shave precious tens of minutes off daily commutes between Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx, where the majority of the city’s job growth is centered, particularly in Brooklyn and Queens.

Yet when the subways were dug 115 years ago, jobs were largely concentrated in Manhattan. Today, moving between boroughs usually requires a Manhattan-centric, circuitous route, often with multiple connections or a trip on one of the city’s notoriously plodding, unreliable buses.

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“Our housing affordability crisis has been pushing people farther and farther from their jobs, taxing our transit system, taxing people’s health and their livelihoods, and making them late to get kids at daycare, for health appointments, meetings, all kinds of things,” said Kate Slevin, senior vice president of state programs and advocacy at the RPA.

Could the Triboro be the answer? Slevin and other RPA reps hosted a panel of transit experts and lawmakers at Brooklyn Historical Society Monday to discuss the ambitious proposal.

One of the plan’s perks is that it would make use of existing freight lines, keeping construction costs low — in theory. The RPA estimates the total cost for all 24 miles would be between $1 and $2 billion, a relative bargain considering the first phase of the Second Avenue Subway extension cost $2.7 billion per mile and the second phase is expected to smash that world record with a cost of $3.8 billion per mile.

Still, the money has to come from somewhere, and the MTA already has a serious deficit problem.

Assemblymember Latrice Walker, who introduced a bill in June to press the agency to study the plan, said she doesn’t want it paid for with fare hikes. Her district, which includes Brownsville, Flatbush, East New York, Crown Heights and Ocean Hill, has the highest number of fare evasion arrests in the city.

“There are a lot of individuals who make just enough money to be broke, who … already find our waning infrastructure and subway system very unaffordable,” said Walker.

State Sen. Jessica Ramos, who represents parts of Jackson Heights, Corona, East Elmhurst and Ditmars Steinway in Queens, seconded Walker’s opposition to a fare hike, and to the MTA’s ongoing efforts to catch fare beaters. “One hundred and sixty-three million dollars is being spent on 500 extra police officers in the MTA,” said the senator. “We’re spending more money than it would probably cost to cover MetroCards for the people who can’t afford to ride our trains.”

From left: Samara Karasyk, chief policy officer at the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, Assembly Member Latrice Walker, State Sen. Jessica Ramos, Nick Sifuentes, executive Director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, and moderator Ben Max, executive editor of Gotham Gazette. Eagle photo by Alex Williamson

The panel acknowledged that making farther flung, often lower-income neighborhoods easier to reach could lead to another problem — accelerated gentrification.

“When we see … speculators as well as the real estate folk, whenever they’re advertising these apartments, it’s always ‘along this rail line,’ and, ‘along this train station,’” said Assemblymember Walker. “This is very scary because with all these plans comes gentrification, and, does this also mean that more people will be pushed to the outskirts of our communities?”

Nick Sifuentes, executive director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, said the city should work to offset any gentrification that could come with improved transit, rather than avoiding upgrades.

“I think the most important thing here is that transit advocates need to work hand-in-hand with affordable housing advocates,” said Sifuentes. “We can’t tell people, ‘You’re low income, so you’re relegated to subpar service.’”

Critics have also pointed out that mingling passenger trains with freight could pose a logistics challenge. Slevin pointed out that in cities like London, Chicago and New Jersey, the two uses already co-exist.

The MTA has said they will begin studying the Bay Ridge Branch, one part of the RPA’s larger Triboro plan, by the end of this year.

Update (2:00 p.m.): The headline of this post was changed to better reflect the article.

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  1. Ivo Skoric

    This should have been done decades ago. It took me 2.5 hours this morning from Bensonhurst to Flushing on D and 7. Disgusting. And most of the track is already there? What’s the big wait for?

  2. I think they should reopen the Rockaway line that will tie South Queens to Northern/Central Queens, which is nonexistent today. This will help free up a lot of Woodhaven Blvd traffic that is so present today. And could be done in a fraction of the time than the above proposal.