Five ‘one-seat ride’ options to JFK Airport proposed by Regional Plan Association

January 6, 2017

Earlier this week, Governor Cuomo unveiled his latest nine-figure infrastructure proposal, a $10 billion overhaul of JFK Airport. As 6sqft explained, the plan address three main issues: “unifying all the terminals with an interconnected layout so the airport is more easily navigable; improving road access to the airport; and expanding rail mass transit to meet projected passenger growth.” This final point included a direct rail link so that passengers traveling to and from Manhattan wouldn’t need to ride the subway to connect to the AirTrain. The Regional Plan Association decided to explore this idea further, and in a report out today they’ve detailed five different approaches for a “one-seat ride” to JFK, which includes an extension of the Second Avenue Subway and a new underground tunnel.


According to the report, the five options are as follows:

Air Train Connection: Connect the existing AirTrain to the LIRR mainline at Jamaica, creating a one-seat ride from Penn Station and Grand Central to JFK.

This option is feasible since it relies mostly on existing infrastructure, though it would require the construction of a “flying junction to connect AirTrain to the LIRR main line” and since the tracks and trains of both systems are different, a “hybrid vehicle” may need to be developed to bridge both lines. Other issues are the already-taxed train slots at both Grand Central and Penn Station and the small nature of the current AirTrain stops. On the plus side, it would be a future connection with the East Side Access project and could run express to Manhattan after Jamaica Station.


The following three options use all or part of the existing Rockaway Beach Branch of the LIRR (which, it should be noted, is the site of the proposed QueensWay park). It’s currently an abandoned line that runs 4.8 miles from Rego Park to Howard Beach, and it connects with the Lower Montauk Branch (a freight line) and the Atlantic Branch to Downtown Brooklyn’s Atlantic Terminal. They would function in addition to the AirTrain, but would cost significantly more than the AirTrain Connection outlined above.

LIRR Airport Express: Extend the unused Rockaway Beach Branch LIRR line in Queens into the airport, and run service from Penn Station or Grand Central along the LIRR mainline to the branch line.

Save for a new on-airport tunnel and stations, this could be done with little new infrastructure and could run express from JFK to Manhattan. However, it could only run to Penn Station or Grand Central (not both), and commuter service would be reduced on the LIRR to accommodate the new airport trains (unless a new East River tunnel was constructed).

2nd Ave Subway Extension to Airport: Extend the Second Avenue subway to Brooklyn and connect to the airport using the Atlantic and Rockaway Beach rights-of-way.

Like a subway, this option would run 24/7 and provide more connections with existing subway lines in the outer boroughs. Because it would connect at Atlantic Avenue, it would also preserve most of the Rockaway Beach Branch for the Queensway. But the subway element has its drawbacks; there would be no express service, so timing would be slower, and many existing subway stations lack accessibility (even more of an issue when you’re traveling with luggage).

3rd Avenue Express: Connect a new rail line along Third Avenue in Manhattan through the Atlantic and Rockaway Beach rights-of-way as part of a larger transformation of the region’s rail network.

This option would link up with both the LIRR and Metro-North and create another new subway line for the east side. Like the 2nd Avenue idea, it preserves most of the line for the QueensWay, but unlike it, the 3rd Avenue option would allow for “limited-stop, express service to JFK and service to major business and tourist destinations in Manhattan, and possibly Brooklyn.” On the con side, this is an entirely new subway line, and we know how long and how much money that took to put in motion on Second Avenue.


Super Express: Construct a new rail right-of-way, most likely a tunnel, between Manhattan and the airport.

The RPA calls this the “most direct, fastest, express alignment between JFK and Manhattan.” It would avoid all the complexities of reinstating the Rockaway Beach Branch, but it would also be the most expensive option since it utilizes no existing infrastructure. Additionally, it would only benefit airport travelers and would pass through a good deal of private property (which could spell eminent domain).

Rendering from Governor Cuomo of a new JFK

You can read the RPA’s full report here>>


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