Southern Brooklyn

Hochul’s new ‘Interborough’ proposal would link Brooklyn, Queens with rail service

January 6, 2022 Raanan Geberer
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Would use LIRR’s existing Bay Ridge branch

Gov. Kathy Hochul, in her State of the State message on Wednesday, announced plans to move forward with a new transit line, called the Interborough Express, that would use the Long Island Rail Road’s Bay Ridge freight line, as well as CSX tracks in Queens, to connect communities in the two boroughs.

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The plan is a version of a proposal made by the Regional Plan Association in the 1990s known as the Triboro RX. The MTA in 2019 and 2020 announced plans to study it, but that’s apparently as far as it went. 

That original version of the line also went into the Bronx over the Hell Gate Bridge, but Hochul’s proposal ends in Queens, presumably because the MTA has proposed a MetroNorth line using the same route in the East Bronx.

This is the first time an official that high up in government has endorsed the idea. She is directing the MTA to immediately begin the environmental review process for this transformative project.

The line would run from the Bay Ridge-Sunset Park waterfront through Sunset Park and Borough Park, past Brooklyn College, and into Flatlands and East New York. From there, it would go to Queens neighborhoods such as Ridgewood, Middle Village, Maspeth, Elmhurst and Jackson Heights, with several new stations in areas not currently served by rail.

The LIRR’s Bay Ridge Freight Line in Borough Park, looking west from the 14th Street overpass during midday. Wikimedia photo by Jim Henderson

The Brooklyn portion, known as the Bay Ridge freight line or the Bay Ridge Branch, hasn’t seen passenger service since 1924, although an unused station still exists in a tunnel in East New York. It is currently operated as a freight line by the LIRR by that New York and Atlantic, an entity that specializes in short-distance freight lines.

“New Yorkers deserve reliable public transit that connects them from work to home and everywhere in between,” said Hochul. “The Interborough Express would be a transformational addition to Brooklyn and Queens, cutting down on travel time and helping neighborhoods and communities become cleaner, greener and more equitable.”     

“This project would smartly repurpose existing infrastructure to add mass transit and create access to jobs, education, and opportunity for so many residents of Queens and Brooklyn,” said MTA Acting Chair and CEO Janno Lieber. 

If adopted, this new service would improve transit and job access to underserved communities along this corridor that is currently home to about 900,000 residents and 260,000 jobs, and with growth expected by at least 41,000 people and 15,000 jobs in the next 25 years. For many residents along this corridor, crossing from neighborhood to neighborhood is slow and tedious because existing subway lines are oriented towards Manhattan, even as many new work opportunities, schools, and services are located in the outer boroughs, said Hochul. 

An unusual passenger car of the New York and Atlantic going on the Bay Ridge Freight Line’s tracks in western Brooklyn. The occasion was a special press trip.
Eagle file photo by Raanan Geberer

“Results from this historic and necessary step could lead to a new service that would provide end-to-end travel time of less than 40 minutes, although most trips would be along shorter segments of the line,” she said. She added that the existing Bay Ridge Branch corridor will still be able to service rail freight, including cross-harbor rail freight. 

“Transportation planners believe that cross-harbor rail freight and passenger service on the Interborough Express can work together in concert, which could be a game-changer for the region,” she added.

The Interborough Express would link to as many as 17 subway lines as well as the Long Island Rail Road, according to the proposal. 

A station at the Brooklyn Army Terminal would be an important one, because of the growing importance of Sunset Park as an industrial hub. Industries there employ an increasing number of high-tech and other employees.

The next important stop, other than stations that can serve as transfers with local subway lines, is near “the Junction” at Flatbush and Nostrand avenues. This station would serve Brooklyn College. The college, with more than 17,000 students at last count, is growing, and almost all its students are commuters who hail from every neighborhood of Brooklyn. 

Going northeast, we would come to a stop near the Brooklyn Terminal Market in East Flatbush. This food market was designed as a wholesale market and remains so, but it has a large retail presence as well. In particular, it has a large assortment of spices, wine grapes, beer, soda, dairy products, Caribbean products and, at holiday time, Christmas trees and other ornaments. The market is currently a local destination, but the Interborough could make it a boroughwide one.

Proceeding further north, East New York-Broadway Junction would be another important thoroughfare and transfer point. As we’ve mentioned, there’s already a passenger platform inside the Bay Ridge Freight Line’s tunnel here. Transfers would be available to the L, A, C, and J trains as well as the Long Island Rail Road. To make this a true transit hub, the existing LIRR station would have to be extensively rebuilt. 

Tom Wright, president and CEO of the Regional Plan Association, said. “We are especially pleased to see Governor Hochul propose the Interborough Express, which will utilize existing railroad tracks to create new transit services in Brooklyn and Queens — and has long been a priority for RPA.”

This plan is not connected with the BQX, a proposal made during the de Blasio administration that would link the Northern Brooklyn and Western Queens waterfront with streetcar service.

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