‘QueensLink’ proposal to extend M train picks up steam
Rendering courtesy of QueensLink
A proposal to reactivate an abandoned railway and create the first north-to-south subway line in Queens is picking up steam. A coalition of New York City public officials and transit advocacy groups rallied in front of City Hall on Wednesday in favor of QueensLink, a plan to extend the M train from Rego Park to the Rockaways as a way to reduce travel time for borough residents who face some of the longest commutes in the country. While the plan has attracted more supporters in recent months, Mayor Eric Adams last year came out in favor of a competing plan to turn the defunct tracks into a public park.
Supporters of QueensLink include a large number of city officials from across the political spectrum, including Council Members Bob Holden and Joann Ariola, State Rep. Zohran Mandani, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, and Queens Borough President Donovan Richards.
The project calls for reactivating the 3.5-mile-long Rockaway Beach Branch, which has not been used for 60 years, and creating four new stations with transfers to the A, J/Z, EFR, and 7 trains and the Long Island Rail Road.
According to the group, the project could create more than 150,000 new jobs and add roughly 47,000 daily commuters to the NYC subway system, making QueensLink a lucrative opportunity for the MTA. Plus, the new line could mean fewer driving vehicles, lowering carbon emissions.
During Wednesday’s rally, QueensLink advocates and elected officials joined together to call on the city and state to conduct an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the project.
“Southeast Queens has existed in a transit desert for far too long,” Richards said. “The QueensLink proposal would give Southeast Queens residents a new transportation option that would make getting around much easier. The time is now to get the train moving and the Environmental Impact Statement that is needed to turn the vast promise of QueensLink into a reality.”
The project faces a few issues going forward. QueensWay, a plan to turn the railway into a High Line-style park, received support in the form of $35 million from the mayor last year for the first phase, known as the “Metropolitan Hub.” Conceived over the last decade by a group called Friends of the QueensWay and the nonprofit Trust for Public Land, the project would include a 47-acre park and seven miles of greenway built along the vacant LIRR railway.
The first phase would see a portion of the railway between Metropolitan Avenue and Union Turnpike transformed into a public park with five acres of park space and 0.7 miles of greenway in Forest Hills.
QueensLink supporters say there’s an opportunity for the project to include both “rails and trails” by creating 33 acres of new parks and adding new bike paths along the new transit line.
“Rails and Trails are both integral parts of the city. Green space allows us to get a breath of fresh air and subways are our lifeblood,” Rick Horan, QueensLink executive director said. “Instead of pitting parks and transit against each other, QueensLink is a consensus plan that incorporates both as vital community resources.”
The MTA also has not shown much interest in the plan. In 2016, the agency studied the feasibility of reactivating the line and found it would cost $8 billion to complete. QueensLink supporters later released their own study which found it could be done at half the MTA’s projected cost. According to Hell Gate, the agency has the Rockaway Beach Branch reactivation listed as a possible project to be included in its 20-year needs assessment.
While the future of QueensLink is uncertain, the city is much further along in another public transit expansion plan, the Interborough Express. Announced by Gov. Kathy Hochul in her 2022 State of the State Address, the project is a 14-mile line that will stretch from Bay Ridge, Brooklyn to Jackson Heights, Queens, and run through a number of neighborhoods that are considered transit deserts, like Sunset Park, Borough Park, Kensington, Midwood, Flatbush, Flatlands, New Lots, Brownsville, East New York, Bushwick, Ridgewood, Middle Village, Maspeth, and Elmhurst.