Thursday, February 08, 2018

Return of Queens commuter rail feasible, but costly

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The proposed station locations should passenger rail service return to the Lower Montauk Branch. The proposed station locations should passenger rail service return to the Lower Montauk Branch. NYC DOT/AECOM

A study conducted by AECOM on behalf of the New York City Department of Transportation (NYC DOT) finds it feasible that passenger rail service could return to the Lower Montauk Branch rail corridor.

Population along the branch, which is owned by Long Island Rail Road, has grown, but new development has lagged. The study's executive summary explains "it is important to consider infrastructure changes that would be needed to support growth if and when that time comes."

The branch currently carries freight traffic that serves Long Island, as well as many Queens-based industries. Additionally, the branch has been identified as an important element in the Cross Harbor Freight Program.

"This report has been developed with these competing interests for the Branch in mind," says the summary. "AECOM and NYC DOT have developed a passenger service concept that would maintain freight access while also developing a new, modern passenger rail service along the branch."

The study found passenger service between Long Island City and Jamaica with 10 stations could be achieved for $1.1 billion in capital costs, which includes infrastructure upgrades, fleet costs, maintenance equipment and a storage and maintenance facility, as well as the elimination of three grade crossings.

The study estimates 21,000 riders per weekday, 5.8 million annually, would use the service and generate $15 million annually in fare revenues with annual operations and maintenance costs estimated to be $55 million.

The caveat, as explained in the study, is that should freight service be maintained along the branch, an additional $1 billion in upgrades would be required to the infrastructure.

"As it was not part of this study's scope, any effort to reintroduce passenger service and eliminate freight from the branch would require additional refinement and analysis beyond what is presented," the study notes.

The study concluded with the following statement, "The Lower Montauk Branch once served a bustling commuting population. As the landscape changed, service was reduced before being eliminated completely. The Lower Montauk Branch Rail Study aimed to analyze the preliminary feasibility of reactivating this line for passenger service. Like any rail project, the Lower Montauk Branch requires significant study and investment to properly evaluate its feasibility. The high-level analysis performed on the various aspects of the corridor and rail operations is only an initial step in the process. This study would serve as a foundation for any further reactivation studies, which would fully and quantitatively analyze passenger service possibilities on the Lower Montauk
Branch."