MTA begins study of Bay Ridge Branch

January 23, 2020 Alex Williamson
Bay Ridge Branch
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Passenger cars may once again rumble down a stretch of tracks that’s been moving only freight since 1924. The MTA has started to study the Bay Ridge Branch, an above-ground rail line that runs from Brooklyn Army Terminal in Bay Ridge/Sunset Park to Astoria. The agency kicked off the study period, which will evaluate the feasibility of restoring passenger service to the line, by awarding a $1.3 million contract to engineering firm AECOM and its subcontractor WSP. 

“This project is hugely exciting — partly because it is based on the concept of squeezing more out of our already existing infrastructure so we don’t always have to build new subway lines from scratch,” MTA Chief Development Officer Janno Lieber said in a statement. 

The Bay Ridge Branch is owned by the Long Island Railroad and CSX. It runs from the waterfront at the BAT, east through Midwood and Flatbush, veers north in Flatlands, travels through Brownsville, East New York, Bushwick and parts of western Queens and then terminates in Astoria. The 16-mile route offers potential points of transfer with 16 MTA-operated subway lines and the Long Island Railroad. 

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Bay Ridge Branch Map
The Bay Ridge Branch. Map: MTA

Resurrecting the Bay Ridge Branch for passenger trains would be the first step in realizing the larger Triboro RX plan, first put forward by public transit advocacy group the Regional Plan Association in 1996. 

The Triboro would connect Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx, making 22 stops, linking up 17 subway lines and four commuter rail lines and shaving precious tens of minutes off commutes between the “outer” boroughs. The RPA has said this is a necessary change, since the city’s job growth is no longer concentrated in Manhattan as it was when the subway tunnels were dug over 115 years ago. 

“The line runs through a lot of communities that don’t have excellent rail service right now, including ‘transit deserts’ where there’s limited rail,” said RPA Senior Vice President of State Programs and Advocacy Kate Slevin during an October panel discussion about the proposal. 

The RPA estimates that the total cost for all 24 miles of the Triboro would be between $1 and $2 billion, a relative steal in a city that spent $2.7 billion per mile on the first phase of the Second Avenue Subway extension.  

Critics have pointed out that mixing passenger and freight trains, as the proposal calls for, could present scheduling challenges. In cities like London and Chicago, the two uses already co-exist.

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  1. 00rodgee00

    Waste of money. It will take billions on top of billions to bring this into reality. Instead why not extend the 4 Line down Utica ave to Kings Plaza, extend the 3 train further out, 2 line further down Nostrand ave to Marine Park? This line will never pay for itself unlike the alternatives. Also extend G service

    • I agree somewhat. For me the line that goes from Fresh Pond through Astoria to the Bronx is more important than anything south of there. Because people already have options south of there (especially south west Brooklyn). And besides, there never has ever been a transit line from the Bronx into Queens, which is a dream for transit enthusiasts. So at least if they fund this project, they should at least start with the northern section first. Of course a more important project to consider is the Rockaway Line.

  2. queensnative

    This is everything I dreamed about growing up in NYC. It shouldn’t be so hard to visit friends and family or check out cool events/restaurants in my neighboring boroughs, or even in other parts of your own borough. 17!!!! subway line connections — that’s huge, this makes us a more interconnected city, and if it happens, it would allow all NYers to both live and work in places we never considered living and working before and create new metropolitian/downtown areas located in the outer boroughs. The subway system seems like it was created with the idea that you go into work in Manhattan and leave to go home. Let’s move past that idea. Queens and Brooklyn are home to 2 million NYers each, the Bronx is home to 1.4 million. That’s more than most cities in this country! There’s a valid reason why we would want to travel between these three amazing boroughs.

    • I’m also a queens native at least for 15 years (Richmond Hill and Astoria). I think they should also reconsider bringing back the Rockaway Line for rail service and connect it to Queens Blvd. To me, this can be a future reality than the article proposal.

  3. Bring back the Rockaway Line. Connect it to Queens Blvd Subway. Than we can start to take this idea more seriously. The mere fact that this project wasn’t done, tells me that the MTA does not care about it Brooklyn/Queens riders.