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Ask George: One-seat ride from Midtown to JFK?

Reader: George, do you think New York can ever have a one-seat ride from midtown Manhattan to JFK? What would it take?

Yours,

Frustrated

Mr. Haikalis: Long the dream of New Yorkers is a convenient one-seat ride rail service between the core of the city and JFK Airport – the nation’s busiest international airport. It is a global embarrassment that we don’t have this link.

The good news is that this past Monday, March 2, 2008, celebrating the 40th Anniversary of the establishment of the MTA, CEO and Executive Director Elliot Sander called for a one-seat ride using the most obvious and direct route – the disused LIRR Rockaway Cut-off in Central Queens (indicated by blue arrow below). The bad news is that Sander did not specify a timetable for implementation of this critical link and failed to include funding for it in his proposed MTA five-year capital budget.

train map lirr others nyc

The key is to restore the weed-strewn right of way once used by LIRR trains heading to the Rockaway Peninsula. This high quality alignment – the Rockaway Cut-off — remains virtually intact, and could be brought back to life with a relatively modest investment. Some 4.2 mile of rail line would need to be restored and a track connection made just north of the Howard Beach Station, so that trains could use the on-airport AirTrain loop. A small fleet of specially-designed rail cars that could operate on the Regional Rail system and the on-airport system would be needed. At Aqueduct Racetrack a cross-platform transfer with the subway is possible. Airport riders could switch to the A train for service to Downtown Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan. Service would be at 10 minute intervals days, evenings and weekends.

The generous right of way could also accommodate hiking paths and bike trails, and add much needed open space in the corridor. Special provision for noise barriers would be an important feature. In consultation with the affected communities several intermediate stations could be re-opened, and adjacent transit-oriented development encouraged.

In the near term, Governors Spitzer and Corzine could demand that the PANYNJ immediately reverse its current anti-transit policy and eliminate the $5 fare penalty charged for mass transit passengers using the AirTrains at JFK and Liberty-Newark Airports. At present, the PANYNJ discourages air passengers, airport employees and visitors from using this two to three billion dollar investment in rail transit, and instead welcomes them to use the free roadways provided at great expense for no fee.

In the meantime, many political leaders are promoting a six billion dollar tunnel to link JFK Airport with Lower Manhattan, which would serve only a fraction of the potential ridership. Restoring the Rockaway Cut-off to Midtown would cost less than 10% of this, but would require political leadership to stand down a handful of opponents who are worried about the adverse impacts from bringing this rail link back into use.