Rockaway Beach Branch
|Rockaway Beach Branch|
Woodhaven Junction Station
|Type||Passenger and Freight|
|Status||Out of service|
|Locale||Queens, New York|
Rockaway Park (south)
|Owner||City of New York|
|Operator(s)||Long Island Railroad|
|Line length||4.8 miles (7.7 km)|
The Rockaway Beach Branch was a rail line owned and operated by the Long Island Rail Road in Queens, New York City, United States. The line left the Main Line at Whitepot Junction in Rego Park heading south via Ozone Park and across Jamaica Bay to Hammels in the Rockaways turning west there to a terminal at Rockaway Park. Along the way it connected with the Montauk Branch near Glendale, the Atlantic Branch near Woodhaven, and the Far Rockaway Branch at Hammels. After a 1950 fire the Jamaica Bay bridge was closed and the line south of Ozone Park sold to the city, which rehabilitated it and connected it to the New York City Subway system as the IND Rockaway Line.
The New York, Woodhaven and Rockaway Railroad was incorporated on March 21, 1877 and organized March 24 to build a 3-foot 6 inch (1067 mm) narrow gauge line from Greenpoint, Brooklyn (connecting with the New York and Manhattan Beach Railway) via Cypress Hills and Woodhaven to Rockaway Beach. The plans were later changed (on March 13, 1878) to build a standard gauge line from Hunter's Point rather than Greenpoint.
An agreement was made with the Long Island Rail Road in 1880 to operate over its Montauk Division to Bushwick and Hunter's Point (via trackage rights from Glendale Junction) and Atlantic Division to Flatbush Avenue (carried by LIRR locomotives from Woodhaven Junction). In order to support the extra traffic, the LIRR agreed to double-track the Montauk Division west of Richmond Hill and the Atlantic Division west of Woodhaven Junction.
After a delay caused by financial problems, the line opened on August 26, 1880, and the LIRR stopped running trains from its New York terminals to Rockaway Beach via Valley Stream and its Far Rockaway Branch. It continued to operate through trains to Far Rockaway, as well as trains between Long Beach and Rockaway Beach.
The company went bankrupt and was sold under foreclosure on July 30, 1887 to Austin Corbin, owner of the LIRR, who reorganized it as the New York and Rockaway Beach Railway (NY&RB) on August 19, 1887 and transferred the property on September 1, 1887. The old Far Rockaway Branch west of Arverne was soon connected to the NY&RB at Hammels, and was abandoned west of the new connection. The NY&RB began operating trains to Far Rockaway over this connection.
From 1898 to 1917, the Brooklyn Elevated Railroad (later Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company) operated trains from Williamsburg (later Lower Manhattan) to Rockaway Beach (at the western part of the Rockaway Peninsula), using a connection to the Atlantic Avenue Division at Chestnut Street Junction (in present-day East New York) and the Rockaway Beach Division south of Woodhaven Junction.
The NY&RB was operated independently until July 1, 1904, when the LIRR leased it as the Rockaway Beach Division. The line south of Woodhaven Junction was part of the LIRR's first electrification, along with the Atlantic Avenue Division west to Atlantic Terminal, with electric passenger service beginning July 26, 1905. Steam trains continued to serve Rockaway Park from Long Island City until June 16, 1910, when the electrified Glendale Cut-off opened, extending the line north from Glendale on the Montauk Division to White Pot Junction at Rego Park on the Main Line. At the same time, the Rockaway Beach Division was electrified north of Woodhaven Junction, and the Main Line was electrified west of Rego Park (and into Penn Station when the East River Tunnels opened on September 8, 1910). The New York and Rockaway Beach Railway was merged into the LIRR on July 19, 1921.
The June 1947 weekday schedule shows 68 trains crossing Jamaica Bay north to south:
- 28 trains to Rockaway Park from Penn Station and 14 from Brooklyn
- five trains to Far Rockaway from Penn and one from Brooklyn
- two to Jamaica from Penn and one from Brooklyn
- 11 to Penn from Penn, and one from Brooklyn to Penn
- two to Brooklyn from Penn and three from Brooklyn to Brooklyn
Many trains had quick connections at the Ozone Park station.
A fire on the trestle across Jamaica Bay between The Raunt and Broad Channel stations cut service on the middle section of the line on May 8, 1950. The LIRR continued to operate over the line with two services: one to Rockaway Park west of Hammels via the Far Rockaway Branch through Nassau County, and the other to Hamilton Beach via the Main Line's connection to the Rockaway Branch through Whitepot Junction. The Jamaica Bay trestle meanwhile remained out of service. The LIRR saw the Rockaway Beach Branch south of Ozone Park as a liability, and sought to either sell or abandon it. The city of New York, however, saw great potential in extending subway service over Jamaica Bay and purchased the line in 1955. After an extensive rebuild of all trestles and converting the line for transit operations, the city began operating it as the IND Rockaway Line on June 26, 1956 to great fanfare.
The line's connection with the Atlantic Branch at Woodhaven Junction, consisting of an interlocking, tunnel portal and incline that rose to meet the elevated Rockaway Branch, was closed and removed in October 1955. This connection had primarily been used to allow trains from Brooklyn to reach Aqueduct Racetrack. The remains of the interlocking can still be seen in the Atlantic Avenue tunnel, while the incline is now owned by Logan School Bus Company which park their busses along the line.
LIRR service of the remaining portion of the Rockaway Beach Branch between Rego Park and Ozone Park was greatly reduced and truncated to a single-track operations between the two endpoints starting in 1956. Patronage sharply declined over the next few years, with service consisting of a single train in each direction between New York Penn Station and Ozone Park. No connection with the IND Rockaway Line was made in Ozone Park, further hurting any potential ridership growth. Realizing the current truncated operation was served better and more frequently by the transit authority—coupled with the fact it was the only LIRR line to not serve Long Island proper—service quietly ceased on June 8, 1962.
The LIRR never filed to abandon the isolated section of double trackage between Elmhurst and Ozone Park, due to the intended connection to the IND Queens Boulevard Line subway as proposed by Robert Moses and others. After half a century the line remains officially out of service and it known by locals as "the forgotten spur." As such, no effort has been made to remove and dismantle any railway hardware. Rails, wooden ties, electrical towers and even de-electrified third rails still adorn most of the route, and it is a regular haunt for hikers, homeless, and such. The right-of-way can be easily be seen, especially along the abandoned elevated embankment in Woodhaven and Ozone Park. It is currently owned by the City of New York.
Since service ended in 1962, there have been repeated talks of restoring the line to active passenger service. Among these proposals was a 1971 revival that would reroute the southern terminus to John Fitzgerald Kennedy International Airport. In 2001, the MTA suggested routing the proposed AirTrain JFK airport service over the line. The route was to begin at Penn Station, following the route of the original Rockaway Beach Branch, through Rego Park, Ozone Park, and ultimately branching off at the current Howard Beach – JFK Airport subway station (A train) served by the IND Rockaway Line.
The routing was met with approval from advocacy groups including the Rockaway-based Committee for Better Transit, Inc. and the Rockaway Transit Coalition. However, local and political opposition from Forest Hills, Kew Gardens, Richmond Hill and Glendale hurt the prospects of restored service, as residents along the line complained that noise levels would increase and neighborhoods would be aesthetically marred. An MTA study of the feasibility of reactivating the line found that "68 percent of Rockaway commuters who have destinations other than midtown Manhattan would not be served and the travel times of Far Rockaway commuters destined for lower Manhattan, Downtown Brooklyn, and other areas of Queens would increase." MTA also cited high operational and construction costs as detriments. It has been argued that restoration is needed to enable redevelopment of the Rockaways, "a potentially very attractive area that has long suffered from slow transit service. Higher property values and influxes of people attracted by fast service to Midtown could revitalize en-route neighborhoods like Richmond Hill."
In 2005, residents began suggesting a conversion of the line to either a rail trail or greenway/linear park to be called "The Queensway". That effort has been re-initiated with proponents arguing that the unused railroad would provide green spaces and economic development opportunities like those associated with Manhattan's High Line Park.
The success of a new racino at Aqueduct Racetrack led to a proposal from Governor Andrew Cuomo to build a massive convention center in the vicinity. Talks of reactivating the line were publically endorsed in February 2012 by Assemblymen Phillip Goldfeder and Michael G. Miller. Goldfeder commented “The commute for people here is only going to go from bad to worse. You can’t talk about a convention center without talking about transportation.” Goldfeder and Miller said they are not opposed to turning sections of the line into a park, but said people who live in Rockaway, Ozone Park and other areas have no quick or easy way to get into Manhattan. The Genting Group, which operates the racino and has been asked to construct the convention center, are evaluating several plans to increase transportation access. Genting is committed to paying for part of the transportation improvements. Queensway advocates are against resumption of rail service, stating that current bus service fills current transportation needs in the area.
Congressmen Hakeem Jeffries and Gregory Meeks added their support for the project in March 2013. Both representatives will push to allocate federal transportation subsidies to study a plan for restored passenger service.
The Queensway is a proposed 3.5-mile (5.6 km) New York City linear park which could be built on a section of the Rockaway Beach Branch, which runs from Rego Park to Ozone Park in the New York City borough of Queens. The park would be an example of the re-use of abandoned railway land in an urban setting. It is planned to be redesigned as an aerial greenway like the High Line Park in Manhattan. Both of the proposed path's endings are at railway junctions, and so it is also being eyed for subway service, as the portions of Queens that the Rockaway Beach Branch served is now underserved by public transport. In summer 2013, the American Institute of Architects held a design contest for potential designs for the rail trail.
The recycling of the railway into a trail is supported primarily by people who do not live adjacent to or near the right-of-way (ROW). Few who live along the line support the conversion to a trail or back to a rail line. Most whose properties abut the ROW are opposed to the ROW's redevelopment in any manner. 
The proposed park has been criticized by transit advocates who prefer to rebuild the rail line.
List of stations
|Grand Street||July 1, 1913||1925|
|Rego Park||May 1928||June 8, 1962|
|Matawok||1910||May 25, 1913|
|Parkside||September 15, 1927||June 8, 1962|
|Brooklyn Manor||January 9, 1911||June 8, 1962|
|Woodhaven Junction||1893||June 8, 1962|
|Ozone Park||1883||June 8, 1962|
|Aqueduct||1883||October 3, 1955||June 28, 1956
as Aqueduct – North Conduit Avenue
|June 1899||June 27, 1955||June 28, 1956
as Howard Beach
|Hamilton Beach||October 16, 1919||June 27, 1955|
a.k.a. Howard's Landing
|1898||October 23, 1907|
|Goose Creek||1888||September 1935|
|The Raunt||1888||May 23, 1950|
|Broad Channel||1880/1881||May 23, 1950||June 28, 1956
as Broad Channel
|Beach Channel||1888||May 31, 1905|
|August 26, 1880||1941|
|Holland||August 26, 1880||October 3, 1955||June 28, 1956
as Beach 90th Street
|April 1903||October 3, 1955||June 28, 1956
as Beach 98th Street
|Seaside||August 26, 1880||October 3, 1955||June 28, 1956
as Beach 105th Street
|Rockaway Park||August 26, 1880||October 3, 1955||June 28, 1956
as Rockaway Park – Beach 116th Street
- Interstate Commerce Commission, Valuation Report: New York and Rockaway Beach
- "Another Railroad Fight". Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, NY). June 8, 1877. p. 2.
- PDF (156 KiB), June 2006 Edition
- PDF (126 KiB), June 2006 Edition
- "A Queer Railroad Job". Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, NY). April 25, 1880. p. 4.
- "Caravansary". Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, NY). July 23, 1880. p. 4.
- "To Rockaway". Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, NY). August 23, 1880. p. 4.
- "Developing". Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, NY). August 26, 1880. p. 1.
- "Opened". Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, NY). August 26, 1880. p. 4.
- "New Route To Rockaway. Steel Rails And Superior Rolling Stock. Extra Trains To Be Run To-day". New York Times. August 29, 1880. Retrieved 2012-11-05. "The New-York, Woodhaven and Rockaway Railroad, which began operations on Thursday last, has already grown into popular savor by reason of the comparative shortness of the route and the superior accommodation"
- Peter Ross, A History of Long Island From its Earliest Settlement to the Present Time, History of the Long Island Railroad, 1903
- "New York and Rockaway Beach Railway". Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, NY). August 15, 1888. p. 1.
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- PDF (40.6 KiB), Edition of June 30, 2003
- PDF (61.9 KiB), March 2005 Edition
- Arrt's Arrchives: July 26, 1905
- PDF (53.7 KiB), March 2005 Edition
- PDF (100 KiB), June 2004 Edition
- PDF (50.5 KiB), December 2004 Edition
- PDF (50.5 KiB), December 2004 Edition
- PDF (45.9 KiB), December 2004 Edition
- George, Herbert (1993). Change at Ozone Park. Flanders, New Jersey: RAE Publishing, Inc.
- PDF, June 2004 Edition
- White Pot Junction Queens Courier, May 1st, 2012
- New York Times special section; "Millions on the Move" (June 20, 1971)
- McLoughlin, John C. (February 17, 2001). "MTA Derails Rockaway LIRR Plan". The Wave. Retrieved 2010-05-01.
- http://wirednewyork.com/forum/showthread.php?t=5561 Wired New York.com
- Colangelo, Lisa L. (December 2, 2011). "Hope for High Line-like park in Queens". Daily News (New York). Retrieved 2011-09-12.
- Colangelo, Lisa L. (February 13, 2012). "Lawmakers: southern Queens commuters need a new railway more than the Queensway". Daily News (New York). Retrieved 2012-02-14.
- Rafter, Domenick (March 21, 2013). "Rockaway Beach rail plan to be backed by Reps. Jeffries, Meeks". Queens Chronicle. Retrieved 2013-03-21.
- Foderaro, Lisa W. "In Queens, Taking the High Line as a Model", New York Times. January 7, 2013; retrieved 2013-1-10.
- Kusisto, Laura. "New 'High Line' on Track", Wall Street Journal (US). December 23, 2012; retrieved 2012-12-28.
- New Web Site Opposes Building Queens High Line on Abandoned Railroad
- "A Grand Success". Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, NY). May 14, 1883. p. 1.
- Rockaway Beach Branch at Forgotten New York.com
- Walking tour of Rockaway Beach Branch at oldnyc.com
- Restoration proposals at Wired New York.com
- Committee for Better Transit, Inc.
- QueensWay Project at The Trust for Public Land
- Friends of the QueensWay website
- Queensway project reaches milestones By JENNIFER MALONEY, Wall Street Journal, 2013 Aug 20