Rockaway Beach Branch

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Rockaway Beach Branch
Rockaway Branch Woodhaven Junction Station jeh.jpg
Type Passenger; freight (former)
Rapid transit; disused (current)
System Long Island Rail Road
Status Out of service (Liberty Avenue–Rego Park
In service as IND Rockaway Line (Liberty Avenue–Rockaway Peninsula)
Locale Queens, New York, United States
Termini Elmhurst (north)
Rockaway Park and Far Rockaway, Rockaway Peninsula (south)
Stations 19
Opened 1880 (LIRR)
1956 (subway; south of Liberty Avenue and Rockaway Boulevard)
Closed 1950 (Liberty Avenue–Rockaway Peninsula)
1962 (Liberty Avenue–Rego Park)
Owner City of New York
Operator(s) Long Island Rail Road
Line length 4.8 miles (7.7 km)
Track gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm)
Operating speed ~35-45MPH

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 the portion south of Liberty Avenue and connected it to the New York City Subway system as the IND Rockaway Line. The portion north of the subway connection was closed in 1962, and three proposals exist for the reuse of the line.


Early history[edit]

The New York, Woodhaven and Rockaway Railroad was incorporated on March 21, 1877[1] and organized on March 24 to build a 3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm) narrow gauge line from Greenpoint, Brooklyn (connecting with the New York and Manhattan Beach Railway) via Cypress Hills and Woodhaven to Rockaway Beach.[2][3] This route was created in order to cut an hour off of travel times to the Rockaways. The new route would take 30 minutes, while the existing route to the Rockaway via the South Side Railroad would take an hour and a half.[4] The plans were later changed (on March 13, 1878[5]) to build a 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) 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).[6] 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,[7] 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.[8][9][10][11]

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,[1][12] and was abandoned west of the new connection.[4] The NY&RB began operating trains to Far Rockaway over this connection.[13]

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.[14][15][16]

The NY&RB was operated independently until July 1, 1904, when the LIRR leased it as the Rockaway Beach Division.[17] 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.[18] 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. This extension also included another connecting track from the Montauk Branch west of Union Turnpike at Forest Park to Parkside Station. 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).[19] The New York and Rockaway Beach Railway was merged into the LIRR on June 30, 1922.[4][20]

In 1939, a project to completely eliminate grade crossings was begun on the Rockaway Peninsula by elevating the line there, and completing plans that had existed since 1901. The elevated structure was completed to Hammels in 1941 and between Hammels and Far Rockaway in 1942.[4]

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.

Final years[edit]

Incline from Atlantic Branch on Atlantic Avenue, now a bus parking lot

A fire on the trestle across Jamaica Bay between The Raunt and Broad Channel stations on May 7, 1950 cut service on the middle section of the line.[4] This was among around 30 fires on the line since 1942.[21][22][23] 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.[21][23][24] The LIRR, then bankrupt, saw the Rockaway Beach Branch south of Ozone Park as a liability and did not wish to spend the huge sum need to repair it, 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 on June 11, 1952 for $8,500,000.[4][25]

All stations south of Ozone Park were taken out of service on June 27, 1955, and no trains ran on the line south of Ozone Park during the winter of 1955–1956 to allow the New York City Transit Authority to rebuild the line for subway operations.[4] After an extensive rebuild of all trestles and converting the line for transit operations, which included a connection to the IND Fulton Street Line at Liberty Avenue via the former Fulton Street elevated line, the city began operating it as the IND Rockaway Line on June 26, 1956 to great fanfare.[26][27][28][29][30]

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 used by Logan School Bus Company, who parks their bus fleet along the incline.[31]

LIRR service continued on the remaining 3.5-mile (5.6 km) portion of the Rockaway Beach Branch between Rego Park and Ozone Park, under a lease from the New York City Transit Authority.[32][33] Service 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 from Ozone Park to Penn Station in the morning, and a train from Manhattan to Queens in the evening on weekdays. The line and its stations, meanwhile, began to deteriorate due to vandalism and lack of maintenance.[32][34][35][36][37] No connection with the IND Rockaway Line was made in Ozone Park, further hurting any potential ridership growth.[35] The LIRR, realizing that the truncated operation was better served by the subway, quietly ceased service on June 8, 1962. At the time, the Rockaway Beach Branch was the LIRR's only passenger-service branch that ran entirely within the New York City limits.[24][38][4][32][39]

Legacy and planned restoration[edit]

The IND Rockaway Line, seen here in 2013, was converted from a section of the Rockaway Beach Branch in 1955.

The city 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. This had been proposed under the IND Second System and later by Robert Moses, with an existing provision at the 63rd Drive subway station for a future connection to Whitepot Junction.[22][40][41][42] An additional plan proposed a connection to the BMT Jamaica Line around the Brooklyn Manor station.[43] However, in October 1955 shortly after LIRR service on the Queens portion of the Far Rockaway Branch ended, it was decided to terminate subway service at Liberty Avenue, with only the connection to the Fulton Street El completed.[43] The right-of-way was sold to the City of New York and is now in most sections administered by the New York City Department of Citywide Administrative Services ("DCAS"), except for a 7 acres (2.8 ha) section in Forest Park that has been mapped as parkland. The line remains officially out of service and is known by locals as "the forgotten spur", a name which dates back to the mid-1950s when the subway plans for the spur were dropped.[34][38][44]

Much of the original infrastructure has either been removed, damaged, rotted or undermined, though some rails, wooden ties, electrical towers and even de-electrified third rails can still be found in some sections, with much of it dating from 1908 or earlier, when the line was originally electrified.[45] The failure to reactivate the northern portion of the line had been attributed to the potential high costs of connecting it to the Queens Boulevard Line, and capacity issues on the line which persist to day, making the Fulton line connection more feasible.[22][46] There are proposals for rail service and a rail trail on this right-of-way. One proposal juxtaposes both plans.[47]

The Rockaway Beach Branch is a regular haunt for hikers and urban explorers who have documented the abandoned stations along this route. The right-of-way can be easily be seen, especially along the abandoned elevated embankment in Woodhaven and Ozone Park.[38] The line is owned by the City of New York, with certain areas around the former junction with the Montauk Branch that have been redeveloped for interim use, including the Logan Bus Company lot.[48][49]

Passenger service[edit]

Since service ended in 1962, there have been repeated talks of restoring the line to active passenger service. The first of these proposals was a 1963 proposal that would have reactivated the line by connecting it to the IND Queens Boulevard Line.[50][51][52]

As part of the 1968 Program for Action, there was a proposal to re-extend the LIRR to John F. Kennedy International Airport via the Van Wyck Expressway.[53] Many Rockaway and central Queens residents wanted the link to run along the disused Rockaway Beach Branch, rather than along the Van Wyck, so that Rockaways residents could simultaneously get express service to Manhattan.[54] The revised plan via the Rockaway Beach Branch was approved by the New York City Board of Estimate in 1969.[55] The $210 million LIRR plan faced great criticism, and one particular section received heavy opposition. New York State Senator John J. Santucci, representing the Rockaways, raised concerns that a 2,900-foot (880 m) tunnel for the link, which would connect to the Rockaway Beach Branch, would require razing part of Forest Park, a plan that was opposed by his constituents.[56] Santucci said that the link's construction would irreversibly destroy part of the park, destroying a community landmark and "stripping away the resources of the people for the luxury of the few."[57] In October 1974, the president of the Hammel Holland Seaside Civic Association wrote to Mayor Abraham Beame, "It is our earnest plea to you that your decision on this rape of Forest Park be rescinded." The association's president further said that although it would be cost-ineffective to create a premium service to JFK Airport, the Rockaway Beach Branch should still be reactivated for local passengers.[58] In April 1976, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Chairman William Ronan said that the link was "not feasible" due to the economic downturn and a corresponding decrease in air traffic.[59]

A subsequent study for a dedicated two-lane bus rapid transit line to JFK along the Rockaway Beach Branch, called the "Transitway", was released in 1982. The line would also host taxis, limousines, and vans going to the airport.[60] The Port Authority scrapped the plan the following year in the face of near-unanimous opposition from the communities along the route.[61]

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.[62] An MTA study of the feasibility of reactivating the line found that it would not be convenient to 68% of commuters traveling between the outer boroughs and the Rockaways; in addition, people traveling from Far Rockaway would have to wait longer, on average, for a train. MTA also cited high operational and construction costs as detriments.[62] 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."[63]

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 publicly 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 named Queensway, but said people who live in Rockaway, Ozone Park, Howard Beach, and other areas along the right-of-way 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, was evaluating several plans to increase transportation access, and was 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.[64]

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.[65]

The latest suggestion for reuse is from the MTA's Twenty-Year Capital Needs Assessment for 2015-2034, published in October 2013. An issue the MTA is trying to address is to provide transversal routes between the core trunk routes. The report suggests that the cheapest, easiest, and quickest way of doing this is to revitalize existing lines like the freight-only Bay Ridge Branch (for the Triboro RX service) or the Rockaway Beach Branch.[66] No money has been allocated to the project, and MTA spokesperson Kevin Ortiz has said while it is just laying out future options.[67] Assemblyman Phillip Goldfeder, who represents Howard Beach and Rockaway, announced in November 2013 that Queens College would be undertaking a study of all options for the disused line. The study will be done by students, who are local residents of Queens.[68] The state of New York approved a new MTA study to reactivate the Rockaway Beach Branch, with the report due by March 2017.[69] As of January 5, 2017, the MTA and Port Authority are evaluating use of the Rockaway Beach LIRR for an one-seat trip between Penn Station and Grand Central and JFK.[70]


Reuse of the line after over 50 years of closure will require extensive rebuilding.

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.[71][72] A proposed 3.5-mile (5.6 km) New York City linear park, it could be built on part or all of the disused section of the Rockaway Beach Branch.[73] The park would be an example of the re-use of abandoned railway land in an urban setting. The plan proposes it to be redesigned as an aerial greenway like the High Line.[71][72][74] In the summer of 2013, the American Institute of Architects held a design contest for potential designs for the rail trail.[75][76]

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).[74] Many people who live along the line support the conversion to a trail or back to a rail line. Many others, whose properties abut the ROW, are opposed to the ROW's redevelopment in any manner.[77] A number of properties adjacent to the right-of-way have expanded their property fences over sections of the former right-of-way, without acquiring the rights to the land.[48][49]

On October 14, 2014, the Friends of the Queensway announced that they had finished a year-long study on the viability of the Queensway. However, it still needs about $122 million in funding.[78] Friends of the Queensway stated that they wanted to appeal to city mayor Bill de Blasio for funding, because it supported two of the mayor's agendas: the Vision Zero traffic safety initiative, and de Blasio's proposal for more parkland in the city; under the plan, there would be bike lanes, walking trails, and access points at major intersections.[79] It would benefit the local economy and include, among other things, "exercise stations, food concessions and outdoor nature classrooms".[80] So far, $1.2 million has been raised.[81]

The proposed park has been criticized by transit advocates such as the Queens Public Transit Committee, who prefer to rebuild the rail line as a proposed expansion of the New York City Subway.[82] More than 322,000 people live within one mile of the Rockaway Beach Branch, combined with the fact that New York City Subway service in the area is limited, with only the BMT Jamaica Line (J and ​Z trains) passing through the neighborhood. Another argument is that the Queensway would pass through Forest Park, where there is already a large 538 acres (218 ha) park.[81] There is also heavy opposition from residents, who fear that their privacy would be invaded and that their rents would be raised as a result of the Queensway.[83] A new subway line, on the other hand, would connect the IND Queens Boulevard Line (E, ​F, ​M, and ​R trains) at Queens Boulevard, with the A train running south of Liberty Avenue.

List of stations[edit]

Miles Name Opened Closed Re-opened
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 Hills 1882 1911
Brooklyn Manor January 9, 1911 June 8, 1962
Woodhaven Junction 1893 June 8, 1962
Ozone Park 1883[84] June 8, 1962
Aqueduct 1883 October 3, 1955 June 28, 1956
as Aqueduct–North Conduit Avenue
Howard Beach
formerly Ramblersville
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
formerly Hammel
August 26, 1880[10] 1941
Holland August 26, 1880[10] October 3, 1955 June 28, 1956
as Beach 90th Street
formerly Steeplechase
April 1903 October 3, 1955 June 28, 1956
as Beach 98th Street
Seaside August 26, 1880[10] October 3, 1955 June 28, 1956
as Beach 105th Street
Rockaway Park August 26, 1880[10] October 3, 1955 June 28, 1956
as Rockaway Park–Beach 116th Street


See also[edit]


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