Brooklyn Boro

Opinion: Feasibility study for Bay Ridge Branch can only be good news

February 5, 2020 Raanan Geberer
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The news that the MTA has committed to a $1.3 million feasibility study to consider the reactivation of the Bay Ridge Freight Line is good news for Brooklyn and Queens residents, even if the project never comes to pass.

The news is good because the MTA, which historically prioritized Manhattan-based subway and rail projects, is now realizing that not all people commute to Manhattan, and that service between the “outer boroughs” is not always adequately performed by buses.

As the Eagle has reported many times, the Bay Ridge Freight Line, which starts at the Bay Ridge waterfront and goes through Borough Park, Flatbush, East Flatbush and East New York, is technically part of the Long Island Railroad, but since the ‘90s has been operated by the New York and Atlantic Railway, part of a company that specializes in operating rail freight. 

New York and Atlantic operation terminates at the Fresh Pond Yards in Glendale, Queens. North of that, a continuation of the line known as the New York Connecting Railroad, owned by the freight rail giant CSX, makes its way west through Queens and proceeds to the Hell Gate Bridge. Freight is frequently exchanged between the two lines at the Glendale yards. Residents of Maspeth, Middle Village and Glendale often complain about a lack of rapid transit in their area, and a station (or stations) here would certainly be welcome.

News for those who live, work and play in Brooklyn and beyond

Similarly, in Brooklyn, the use of the line for passenger service could mean better transit service for neighborhoods that are currently far from subway lines and often rely on “dollar van” service. Surviving maps from the pre-1925 era when passenger trains ran on the line show strange names like “Ford’s Corners,” “Vanderveer Park” and “Kouwenhoven,” but in reality, most of those stations are in East Flatbush and Flatlands. There is also a still-existing below-ground station in East New York that can easily hook up with the East New York station on the LIRR’s main line as well as the subway system’s Broadway Junction complex.

As numerous articles have pointed out, service, which could continue into Astoria, would hook up with numerous subway lines in both boroughs, the 2 and 5 trains’ Flatbush-Nostrand terminal being only one example. It could also solve a long-lasting problem: the lack of subway service in East Flatbush and Flatlands. Mayor Bill de Blasio most recently tried to address the problem with a planned extension of the Eastern Parkway trunk line down Utica Avenue, but that plan was met with a ho-hum response from the city and the MTA. 

Running mass transit on the Bay Ridge Freight Train tracks through East New York, Flatlands and East Flatbush was proposed as far back as 1968, as part of the MTA’s bold “Program for Action,” but the city’s bankruptcy in 1975 put a stop to that.

The proposal, however, raises many questions. Freight service on the line is hardly inactive — in fact, it’s growing. A list of the products that trains along the line carry includes lumber, building products, scrap metal, construction and demolition debris, food, beer, gravel, propane, chemicals, structural steel and plastics. Advocates of passenger service on the Bay Ridge Freight Line point to instances in which rapid transit and freight share the same tracks, such as in Chicago. I leave this to the experts.

Another question is, who will operate the passenger trains? Will it be the Long Island Rail Road, the subway system, or another entity that doesn’t yet exist? The MTA probably wants to leave all options open.

Finally, articles about the study note that the route is one part of the Regional Plan Association’s long-proposed Triboro Plan, which would extend the rail line from Astoria over the Hell Gate Bridge to run alongside Amtrak’s existing tracks in the East Bronx. The trouble is that use of the Bronx route might already be taken — the MTA has planned to put a Metro-North line that would have new stations in Hunts Point, Co-op City, etc.

As the Eagle reported, the study will be undertaken by the engineering firm AECOM in connection with subcontractor WSP. Supporters of the idea shouldn’t get their hopes up totally — the MTA has done many studies of transit options that have never been put into effect. There is only so much money in the budget, and the line would have to compete with projects that have already been agreed upon, such as extending the Second Avenue subway north and outfitting more subway stations with ramps or escalators. However, after years of not building transit outside Manhattan, the fact that the MTA has committed to a study of passenger rail on the Bay Ridge Line deserves our applause.

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  1. Good idea. But there is another idea. The Rockaway Line. This will tie North Central Queens with South Queens and will finally treat the borough as one. Plus because the route is much shorter, it can be done much more quickly. The only issue would be connecting it to the Queens Blvd Subway, which is already over capacitated with lines. But because their is more room on the local tracks, the “G” could be extended for this purpose. It is already a Brooklyn and Queens subway, which was shorten due to demand for Manhattan service. The “G” can become the primary Rockaway service, with the “A” serving Lefferts Blvd 100 percent of the time.