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MTA to Study Feasibility of Commuter Railway Line from Astoria to Bay Ridge

The proposed passenger rail line would run from Astoria to Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. (MTA)

Jan. 23, 2020 By Kristen Torres

The MTA has awarded a $1.3 million contract to an engineering firm in order to study the feasibility of creating a passenger rail from a freight-only line that runs from Astoria to Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.

The study, announced by MTA on Wednesday, will look into the possibility for subway, commuter rail, light rail or bus service that would run in conjunction with existing freight rail service in order to supplement inter-borough travel between Brooklyn and Queens.

The new line would run 16 miles north through the two boroughs—passing through Glendale, Middle Village and Elmhurst in Queens—and would connect to 19 subway lines and the Long Island Rail Road.

“This project is hugely exciting – partly because it is based on the concept of squeezing more out of our already existing infrastructure so we don’t always have to build new subway lines from scratch,” said Janno Lieber, MTA Chief Development Officer.

The announcement comes just three days after Council Member Costa Constantinides endorsed the city’s plan for the Triboro rail line—an inter-borough train that also looks to use freight-only lines for future passenger travel.

The Triboro rail line, however, would run from Co-op City in the Bronx, down through western Queens and into Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.

“If we’re going to shrink our carbon footprint by getting people out of their cars, we need a reliable mass transit system that connects one borough with another,” said Constantinides in the letter.

“The Triboro line could make connections from western Queens to the Bronx or to Brooklyn significantly faster, because not all lines have to lead to Manhattan anymore,” he added.

The engineering firm AECOM will work alongside subcontractor WSP to complete the feasibility study for the Bay Ridge branch project. A timeline for the results was not immediately given by MTA officials.

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Larry Penner

Term limited NYC Councilmember and Queens Boro President Wanna Be Costa Constantinides coming out in favor of the Triboro Rail line is nothing new.

In 2016, the Regional Planning Association updated release of an old proposal from 1996 for construction of the Triboro X new rail service. Just how did the RPA come up with a potential cost of $2 billion? My experiences of over 31 years in the transportation field tell me it could easily cost several billion more. Any proposed extension of the route from Bay Ridge, Brooklyn to Staten Island would require construction of a tunnel and additional station at the St. George Staten Island Ferry Terminal. This could also provide a connection to the Staten Island Rapid Transit station and system.. This additional work alone could easily cost $5 billion.

The proposed route will traverse dozens of neighborhoods impacting several hundred thousand people living nearby. How will they react to potential noise and visual impacts of a new elevated subway? There are serious legal and operational issues to be resolved with the Federal Rail Road Administration. They have regulatory jurisdiction over significant portions of the proposed route which would run adjacent to existing active freight tracks. Subway and freight trains have to coexist on the same narrow corridor.

Project costs will probably include a series of new stations with elevators and escalators. This is necessary to provide transfer capacity with 15 subway and 4 commuter rail stations that intersect along the route. (Each connecting subway or commuter rail station could easily cost from $50 to $100 million; (Imagine the costs of escalators and including elevators to be in compliance with the Americans wit Disabilities Act). Add to that — new track, signals, power, power substations and a hundred or more new subway cars ($2 million per car). This additional fleet would require construction of a new maintenance, operations and storage yard (several hundred million.) What community would be willing to host such a facility. There is also a potential serious conflict at the Bay Ridge, Brooklyn terminus. This is also a potential site for a connection to the proposed $10 billion Cross Harbor Freight Tunnel project.

History has told us that construction of most major new transportation system expansion projects have taken decades. There is the completion of feasibility studies, environmental reviews, planning, design, engineering, real estate acquisition, permits, procurements, budgeting, identifying and securing funding to pay for all of the above before construction can start.

There is not enough space here to list many other transportation projects in NYC whose costs range from $50 million to $6 billion that might be considered a higher priority than the “Triboro X” line.
(Larry Penner is a transportation historian, writer and advocate who previously worked 31 years for the United States Department of Transportation Federal Transit Administration Region 2 New York Office. This included the development, review, approval and oversight for billions in capital projects and programs for the MTA, NYC Transit, Long Island Rail Road, Metro North Rail Road, MTA Bus, NYC Department of Transportation along with 30 other transit agencies in NY & NJ).


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