Build transit where most effective, not least expensive (Vanshnookenraggen)
Transit planners often look for the path of least resistance but this more often than not reduces the effectiveness of transit. Transit should be built where it will be most effective not where it’s cheapest to build.
Quietly last month a report was released by the New York DOT after a yearlong study looking at the feasibility of restoring passenger service along the LIRR Lower Montauk Branch (LM), a two track non-electrified line which runs from Long Island City (note: the LM does not connect to the East River Tubes to Manhattan, although Manhattan service may be possible if the Montauk Cutoff was rebuilt and trains looped back via Sunnyside Yards) through Maspeth, Middle Village, Richmond Hill, and Jamaica where it connects back with the Main Line. The LM was once part of the larger LIRR network which had a passenger terminal in Bushwick as well as LIC. After the LIRR was extended into Manhattan passenger service on the LM dropped and the line was mainly used for diesel train runs to Montauk which could not use the East River Tunnels. The LM had 6 passenger stations between LIC and Jamaica with all being abandoned by 1998. The LM is not solely used by freight trains which service the industrial areas of Maspeth and the trash trains coming in from Long Island (the LM connects to the Bay Ridge Branch and the Hell Gate Bridge so freight can get off the island).
Time and again proposals have been put forth to reuse the branch, all coming to naught. When the MTA was looking at ways to connect the 63rd St Tunnel (F train) to the larger transit network in Queens (the tunnel had been stopped at 21-Queensbridge and funding ran out before it could be extended east), they considered the LM as part of a super-express line to Jamaica. Ultimately this was rejected in favor of simply connecting the 63rd St Tunnel to the Queens Blvd Subway. The latest study was released last month and looked at adding passenger service via Diesel Multiple Unit train cars (DMUs) which meet FRA standards for passenger rail cars operating along side freight trains. The study conducted by AECOM and sponsored by former Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley concluded that restoring the line would cost between $1 billion and $2 billion depending whether freight trains were eliminated or not. The report concludes that due to the high cost of rebuilding parts of the line to eliminate grade crossings and other ROW hazards, along with the service levels needed to attract riders and not interfere with freight, and the potential push back from residents along the line, that the line would only attract about 21,000 riders on a weekday. For comparison, the recently opened 2nd Ave Subway to 96th St, a 1.8 mile extension, cost $4.5 billion but sees over 200,000 riders a day. While Crowley seems upbeat about the study her successor is not.