The Triboro RX: An RX for disaster.

Published on: August 22nd, 2013. Written by:

Do you want to see the city spend 10s of millions of dollars condemning hundreds family homes? Would you like to see severe service disruptions to the N and Q lines in Queens, including a potential full closure (to last months, or years) of the entire route between Queensboro Plaza and Ditmars blvd? Do you want to pay more in taxes to have your household trash trucked out of NYC? Or perhaps even see the reopening of the Staten Island landfill? Do you want to pay more for everything from Chinese food to plywood at Home Depot, and even higher rents in new buildings?

If the ‘Triboro RX’ subway line were to be built, all of the above would happen. This might sound like hyperbole, but when you take a serious look at the facts I’m going to lay out, you’ll see what I mean.

RPA-Triboro-Rx-Map (1)

Do you want to pay more in taxes to have your household trash trucked out of NYC? Or perhaps even reopening of the Staten Island landfill? Do you want more trucks on our already limited and very strained highways? Do you want to pay more for everything from Chinese food to plywood at Home Depot?

Background:
For those that don’t know, many years ago in 1996, transit advocates have proposed the “RX” subway line which would create a subway loop from Bay Ridge to the Bronx, utilizing the right of way of the New York and Atlantic railroad’s Bay Ridge branch and CSX’s “Fremont” line. This plan is largely based on census data, perceived need, and the fact that someone somewhere drew a line on a map without ever looking at the actual huge physical and economic obstacles which completely block the creation of this this subway route.

The Obstacles:
Lets start with the economic obstacles. The majority of the route is currently heavily (not “lightly”) used by 4 railroads (well – 5 technically). These railroads move thousands of freight cars to and from Queens, Brooklyn and all of Long Island every year. This is a large steadily growing business involving slow moving heavy freight trains of up to 100 cars in length. The northern end of this route sees as many as 5 freight trains per day. The south end generally sees one every day or two, which stops often along the route to switch freight cars at a variety of customers (thus taking around 4-8 hours to complete the route).

Out of the gate, you’re dealing with several large for-profit companies who own the tracks and who will want a very large amount of money to share them (or who would win in federal court if anyone tried to force them off their property – railroads don’t answer to local governments – it is protected interstate commerce). The company with the deepest pockets is CSX, who makes millions off of this route annually. At the Bay Ridge end of the line you have the NYNJRR, which is owned by the Port Authority of NY & NJ – which obviously also has deep pockets and a deep growing investment in railroad infrastructure around the port of NY (NYNJRR was a privately held company up until a few years ago – the Port Authority has been growing it ever since). They are in the process of opening a large new rail terminal in Sunset Park.

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There are some transit advocates and naive politicians who believe that these tracks are “lightly” used – they are completely wrong. I’ve heard some claim there is so little freight traffic that they can simply get rid of the freights altogether. These people are severely misguided to a point of being dangerous. There is no eliminating the freight trains, not without great cost to the entire region and huge taxpayer expense.

Here are just a few big problems NYC would face with the loss of these freight tracks:

1) Trash Removal. The NYC government depends heavily in these freight trains to remove up to 33% of NYC’s household trash. That is around 24 loaded trash cars (equal to 50semi trucks) being moved 6 days per week. Loss of freight rail would result in millions of trash truck trips via our already overtaxed, limited highway system. The fuel, toll and trucking costs would result in higher taxes for all NYers. The only way to offset it would be to do something drastic, like reopen the Staten Island landfill, or perhaps create some new ones. Maybe every neighborhood could have its own landfill instead? Since there is no real estate for landfills in NYC, we would need to convert neighborhood parks to landfills, or come up with some other insane scheme to deal with the unrelenting production of trash in NYC.

Rail is one of the cheapest ways to get the trash out of NYC. Garbage is quite literally NYC’s largest export.

Rail is one of the cheapest ways to get the trash out of NYC. Garbage is quite literally NYC’s largest export. (Yes, this is a fact).

2) Food prices would go up. In Maspeth and Long Island City, boxcars full of everything from Rice to Soy Sauce are unloaded at warehouses, on its way to restaurants all over NYC. Western Beef in Bushwick unloads freight cars of meat and beer. Shipping by rail is significantly cheaper than via truck (especially with NYC’s restrictive tolls, endless traffic and relentless ticketing of delivery vehicles).

3) Everything in Home Depot. After Hurricane Sandy hit NYC and forced the closure of many area highways, Home Depot’s supplies ran short – so they wised up and started using rail. They currently receive up to 35 freight cars a week at a distribution center on Long Island. The cheaper transportation costs keeps the retail prices of everything from bricks to plywood cheaper than if they were transported here by truck alone. The added supply line means store shelves will be stocked for the next major storm to blow into town.

4) Cement. No, you don’t need it, but ‘real estate developers’ sure do. At least half of the stone that is used in the cement making process comes into town via freight rail. If the stone costs more to truck in, it’s going to cost you more in rent in new buildings. The added construction costs will be passed directly on to consumers. Period.

5) Thousands more trucks traveling to and from Long Island. Think about all that smog, and how many people will surely get run over with all those trucks trying to cut through Manhattan on their way to NJ. NYC receives an astonishing low 3-4% of goods via rail as it. Imagine how many less trucks and how much less smog there would be if we received just 20, or 30% of our goods via rail (as most US cities do)

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“Why can’t you just run the freight trains at night?” That isn’t a viable option. Some of these trains already move at night. It takes each train at least an hour just to move from oak point to fresh pond. The full round trip takes 4 hours. You could move 4 or 5 trains overnight, tops. That would barely preserve current freight needs and would leave them at max capacity – and this is a growing market where there will be more freight trains in the future – not less. NYC simply needs freight only tracks. The LIRR recently turned over its entire ‘Lower Montauk’ line to Long Island freight operator NYA, due to their rapidly growing business along this route (and lack of any passenger service – which ended in the late 1990s due to lower ridership (approximately a dozen passengers per day)). A growing city requires solid supply lines for large bulky items not well suited to road travel. While trucks will always dominate the inter-city delivery market, there’s no reason at all to hand these companies a monopoly and drive up consumer prices even more.

Physical obstacles:
We haven’t even touched the physical obstacles yet.

The first one you’ve heard assuming you are familiar with this issue is that federal regulations require that any commuter rail cars sharing tracks with freight trains must be built to a higher standard of crash protection than any current NYC MTA subway cars are designed for. The MTA doesn’t have extra train cars to provide this service even if the FRA gave them a waiver, so they would have to be ordered new. A new train yard would have to be built to maintain them. Congrats, You’ve just spent around 100 million dollars of taxpayer money, by the way.

Since you’re not likely to get the FRA waiver, the subway route would need separate tracks from those used by the freight trains. You would need a “right of way” (land that the tracks are on – also known as an ROW) that is 3 at least tracks wide. One for freight, the other two for subway. This does not currently exist.

The ROW from Fresh Pond Yard in Ridgewood, to Oak Point Yard in the Bronx, is only wide enough for 2 tracks. Much of the route only has one track in place now, though approaching Fresh Pond, there are 2 freight tracks in service. They cross the Lower Montauk freight tracks at bridge 35 – which again is 2 tracks wide. The route crosses Queens Blvd on a viaduct that only had space for – you guessed it – 2 tracks. The tracks also cross the 3 mile long Hell Gate bridge. While the main span of Hell Gate was designed to accommodate 2 transit tracks, the viaduct approaching it was not. Amtrak uses two of the 3 tracks for its northeast corridor, where intermingling of subway cars could never happen. CSX has one freight track, leaving space for a single subway track across the viaduct. To expand the viaduct would mean the condemnation and demolition of up to 85 homes along the viaduct, along with at least one church and the Astoria 11105 Post Office. Most of these 85 homes are currently valued in the 700-900k dollar range (2013 prices – these go up every year by at least 50k). After demolition, you’ve just spend at least 85 million just to create space for the wider viaduct – not including all the lawsuits, police overtime at protests, etc. The cost of iron, new wider bridge piers, etc would run into the billions. And this is for maybe a 2 mile segment of the route! (The entire route is roughly 14 miles total).

Let’s just say community resistance would be harsh.

Astoria Subway Service: Suspended Indefinitely
A new station for the RX route at the Ditmars N/Q stop would require the widening of the hell gate viaduct even more to accommodate at least 1 center platform. Due to the track configuration of the N and Q line (see the attached track map), as well as Ditmars nature as the terminal station of the N/Q lines, This construction would likely require the N and Q to be shut down from Ditmars all the way to Queensboro Plaza during construction. There simply is no other station along the line configured for use as a terminal, with switches to turn trains at. This is a very busy route and such a massive disruption would likely be met with outright protests. It would likely take at least a year to build. The value of property in the area would drop like a brick.

The N and Q are very congested with commuters going largely to Manhattan. An RX station would draw little ridership from northwest Queens residents. The transfer would likely deposit more riders at Ditmars, which is already cramped. Most rush hour trains are standing room only by the time they leave Astoria blvd. And thanks to the ‘upsize everything’ Vallones, all of western Queens is growing in population. The MTA should be considering adding a new tunnel/route to the area (say, a tunnel up 21st street and maybe over to LGA) – and definitely not anything that would deposit more riders onto a route that is already stretched thin.

Central Queens also hit.
Leaving Astoria and following the freight tracks south, the bridge over the BQE (just rebuilt 15 years ago) would need expansion, creating a temporary traffic mess. 8 street overpasses might need modification or replacement, all at significant taxpayer costs. Closer to Fresh Pond, a tunnel would need to be widened. The area would get transit service though, so NIMBY resistance might be less. Then again these same residents formed a very group called ‘CURES” whose sole aim is to completely eliminate freight trains in and around Fresh Pond yard. If just a few freight trains upset these people, commuter trains passing by every 10 minutes would drive them completely insane. The people who live in this part of Queens drive everywhere. When they had passenger service along the LIRR Lower Montauk, they didn’t use it.

Fresh Pond to Bay Ridge.
Do I even need to explain the obstacles involved in the Bay Ridge line? There are similar long segments of narrow ROW which could not accommodate more than 2 tracks and would require extensive construction. There are at least 33 street overpasses and 2 tunnels that would require widening or complete replacement, and hundreds of homes that would likely require demolition to widen the ROW.

For a complete separated 2 track subway line, the costs are far more than this city can brunt. We are talking 10s of billions of dollars here. It would be Robert Moses, 2013 edition.

For a complete separated 2 track subway line, the costs are far more than this city can brunt. We are talking 10s of billions of dollars here. It would be Robert Moses, 2013 edition.

This does not mean a transit option in this route is beyond question. In fact it may be very affordable in our lifetimes.

“Heavy Rail”: A more realistic option
A heavy rail commuter train could use the same track as the freight trains. Think Metro North, or Long Island Railroad. A second track would need to be installed along the entire length of the route. One of the yard tracks at track at Fremont/Fresh Pond would need to be replaced, perhaps with a new long siding south of the East New York tunnel where the ROW can fit at least 4 tracks. This limited service could run every hour or 2, with windows for freight trains to get through, and co-exist with them.

This option (along with the subway option) would still require a complete rehabilitation of all existing tracks / which are suited for slow moving freights but not at all safe for higher speed passenger trains. This would cost many many millions. Additionally, the MTA doesn’t own any locomotives or passenger cars to run this service with. You would need at least 20 passengers cars, and 4 or 5 locomotives, to provide minimal service. Oh and actual employees: drivers, conductors, cleaners, maintenance crews… All of these things cost way, way more money than our lying politicians have lead on. The MTA stated each station would cost millions – plus millions for the actual trains, millions for new track that is up to commuter rail standards, etc etc. A conservative estimate would be a billion dollars for this option, minimum. Personally I think this is the only realistic option for providing commuter service along this route. If it proved popular, improvements could be made and the political/social will to do so would increase.

This absolutely stupid idea would require a 2 lane road be built along the tracks – roughly the same width requirements of a subway line.

Or there is the logical choice
One argument for creating the RX subway route is to provide a fast transit option for those who live in the Bronx but work in far east Brooklyn, and vice versa. I have a great solution for these people: MOVE CLOSER TO WHERE YOU WORK.

I know a lot of people will not like that idea – but it’s true. In many large cities, commute time is significantly less because people can afford to live closer to work. This opens the window to a huge conversation about housing costs, infrastructure, how slow our ‘express’ services are, etc – but we would be here for months arguing about it.

I’ve always lived close to where the work is – because long commute times are a well documented source of stress and bad health. How best to balance work/life/commute is a riddle as old as NYC itself. Only you can decide what works for you.

Then there is the stupid…
“Mayor” Bloombergs pick for NYC’s news Mayor, Christine Quinn, naively stated a dedicated bus route could be built here for less than 25 million. This absolutely stupid idea would require a 2 lane road be built along the tracks – roughly the same width requirements of a subway line. Think all of the costs of subway option mentioned above – the bridge building, N/Q disruption, homes condemned, etc. All of that work would be required, minus the track, and plus hundreds of buses and drivers. Oh and they would have to be driven across a 3 mile long bridge without the driver going over the guard rail…. Christine Quinn definitely wins my aware for stupid, lying politician when it comes to the Triboro RX topic.

Conclusion:
While its very easy to draw lines on a map and say “this should happen” – actually doing it is significantly more complicated and considerably more expensive than anyone advocating this subway line has bothered to understand. It’s one thing to sit behind a computer and say let’s do it, it’s something else entirely to actually look at the economic and physical obstacles. Because when you do – you know beyond any shadow of a doubt that the Triboro RX subway will never, ever happen.

As I love to say, I am a firm believer in better transit options around NYC. That doesn’t mean I’m not going to call bullshit on really stupid ideas when I see them. Reactivating the old LIRR Rockaway beach branch would yield far, far more bang for our taxpayer dollars. Transit advocates should be picking their battles and choosing realistic ones, not pie in the sky Robert Moses style insanity.

About The Author: I’ve written 2 books about these tracks, and have walked every inch of the entire proposed RX route. I’m an infrastructure nerd who knows more about this topic than anyone in their right mind should. Period. (I also have one about hidden spaces in the NYC Subway system – so anyone that thinks I hate subways from reading the above obviously needs to read more.

UPDATE 9.14.2013:
According to 2nd Avenue Sagas, the above article is both obnoxious and compelling. Let me ask though – what’s more obnoxious? Someone dropping facts or politicians and the media lying to the people by claiming the RX route can easily be built? What I wrote was designed, word by word, to be obnoxious and a cold hard slap of reality to the face of these lying, dangerous politicians and the media outlets that parrot their every word without doing any actual journalistic investigating. Again, I’d love to see more transit options around town – but let’s look at the complete picture. Basing decisions off faulty, navel gazing dreams and not present reality helps absolutely no one and gets absolutely nothing done, ever.

Also, someone quipped that I’m an advocate for the long dreamed, never going to happen harbor freight rail tunnel. That’s simply not true. The Port Authority has currently put out a bid for new carfloats to move freight cars from NJ to Brooklyn. Carfloat traffic today has significant room for growth at the Bay Ridge terminal and the facilities on the NJ side could be expanded if needed (though they were destroyed by Hurricane Sandy). Carfloats get the job done, and used to be significantly more popular 50 years ago… Bring them back.

40 Responses to “The Triboro RX: An RX for disaster.”

  1. BronxSteve says:

    Please – don’t set up straw men to attack that don’t exist. The RX plan is NOT for a subway, with all the disruption you rightly bemoan. It is for a heavy-rail commuter-type operation, which, as you admit at the end, is realistic. And as for your conclusion – everyone should move closer to where they work – well, then, why have transit at all? Just silly.

  2. Control says:

    Please- don’t come on here accusing me of setting up a ‘straw man’ when the media and politicians have portrayed it as a completely unrealistic fantasy subway line (or a bus route, if you asked Ms. Quinn – who thankfully lost the primary).

    I don’t ‘admit’ that it is realistic for the route to be run with heavy rail – I state pretty fucking clearly that heavy rail is quite possibly the ONLY realistic option. Realistic however does not equal affordable – not by a long shot. Building the stations alone would cost boatloads more than anyone presently wants to be taxed for. It has taken NYC 90 years to build even a portion of the 2nd avenue subway. No one in their right mind should think the RX can be built any time within the next 10-20 years. Meanwhile you have nitwit politicians saying they could built it in a year for 25 million. For the fucking love of god – stop lying to the people – because some of us know far batter and will say so. That’s what this post is all about: It’s speaking actual facts to the lies and complete stupidity of those who think you can just draw a fucking line on a map and magically have a new transit option that doesn’t disrupt many other issues along with it. I DO enjoy how you don’t refute any of the facts I present regarding the present freight tracks being well used and vital to the economy and transportation needs of NYC and Long Island.

    If you live in the Bronx and commute to Brooklyn via mass transit, and you complain about the lack of transit options or how long it takes to commute – guess what? It’s time to either move or find a new job that is more accessible. Or maybe buy a car. The united states constitution does not guarantee you the right to a fast easy commute. It is up to everyone to decide what is best for their lives. I’ve known many, many people who had 2+ hour commutes who eventually moved closer to work or found jobs closer to home, while I also know a guy that commutes 3 HOURS EACH WAY – because HE CHOOSES to live far outside of NYC. These are decisions individuals need to make for themselves – don’t expect a nanny government that will fix every crazy problem you create for yourself.

  3. Control says:

    Since you must have missed it –

    “The surprising return of the three-boro X SUBWAY line”
    http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/politics/2012/04/5772951/surprising-return-three-borough-x-line-subway

    “How About A Subway Linking Brooklyn, Queens & The Bronx WITHOUT Manhattan?”
    http://gothamist.com/2013/08/21/the_dream_subway_line_with_20_conne.php

    + Many other articles, all calling it a subway line.

    Thus, your ‘straw man’ argument itself is nothing but a straw man.

    Thanks for playing.

  4. Angel 10 says:

    It is up to everyone to decide what is best for their lives.
    These are decisions individuals need to make for themselves – don’t expect a nanny government that will fix every crazy problem you create for yourself.

    ***

    TRUE, move up and be a woman/man, and please think b4 you make a move( or even open ya mouth). please remind that a railroad will neverever run on ya own needs( xcept ya bombed it…)
    all the best but aways compare ya own needs to the masses…

  5. Ed Unneland says:

    Like the idea of using the tracks for regular commuter rail … has anyone done any sort of cost estimate for connecting Staten Island’s ROW along the north shore to Bay Ridge? This could be interesting, but I could be wrong …

  6. Control says:

    No one has looked at that, though the NYC EDC looked at a freight rail tunnel btw. NJ & Brooklyn – which would cost between $4.8 billion and $7.4 billion, depending on whether the tunnel consists of one tube or two. You’d probably need two, though you could get by with one until demand grows (and I’m pretty sure it would, quickly)

    I’m a little surprised no real estate developer has bought up chunks of the Staten Island north shore and pressured politicians to at least reopen that ROW to passenger rail. The tracks btw. arlington and the ferry terminal are completely abandoned and would be another transit line better suited to reopening and investment. In my head it’s second on the list of former transit lines to reopen (behind the rockaway beach LIRR branch).

    The tracks around arlington, btw, were also abandoned freight tracks that reopened recently. The reopening of those tracks had an immediate impact on highway traffic, taking thousands of truck trips off the Goethals.

  7. Control says:

    What’s sad is we’re in the minority when it comes to saying such things. ‘The needs of the few outweigh the needs of the many’.

  8. Alex says:

    This editorial is ridiculous. As it even acknoledges, it’s perfectly feaisble to do heavy rail service on this ROW, and co-exist with freight. And just because it’s technically and legally heavy rail doesn’t mean it has to operate like Metro North, it could be a subway line with Metro Cards, and all the rest, but use M-8 style EMUs set up for subway-style operations. During rush hour, on a single route with double-tracking, trains could run every 8-10 minutes if demand warranted, and then there could be a midday lull for freights to get through, and then the line could close overnight. Or it could operate like a commuter rail system all the time, and co-exist with freights that have narrow windows to operate in. The New Haven used to run a mix of freight and passenger trains, as did many other roads, yet today the only place that has appreciable freight and passenger mixing without one type being totally dominant are a few lines in Chicago. It doesn’t have to be that way.

  9. Control says:

    If pointing out facts is “ridiculous” we are all doomed.

    You clearly missed the point: badly informed politicians and clueless citizens alike have been talking about this route running as a SUBWAY line with SUBWAY equipment – just LOOK at the two links I posted in comments above – news outlets called the RX route a ‘SUBWAY’ – not me.

    It could be commuter rail, but building stations for it and buying equipment would also cost far more money than has been discussed. Several politicians have all stated it’s an easy great idea that should be done and could be up and running within months. They are 500% wrong. Excuse me for calling bullshit what it is.

    This article is meant as a stern reality check against the lies and misinformation out there. It would be a far larger undertaking than anyone has bothered to mention. It would cost billions of dollars and require a decade of work. Nowhere do I state it can’t be done, what I do state very clearly is that it can’t be done cheaply and would involve far more work and expense than the navel gazing politicians have bothered to look at.

    My definition of ‘Ridiculous’ is when someone publicly proposes something and lies to the public to make it sound like it’s an easy project to do quickly. Don’t present some navel gazing dream idea for a plan (the RX isn’t even a plan – it’s an idea) with no facts, no budgets, no nothing – to the people of this city – because when you present a plan full of holes, a skeptic like me will come along and rip it to pieces.

    Also Chicago is far from the only place where freight and commuter rail intermingle rather seamlessly. Philly, Boston, much of NJ, Long island and even the Bronx are fine examples of coexistence. If you’re going to argue with me or call the facts I’m presenting ‘ridiculous’, know what the fuck you’re talking about beforehand.

  10. Alex says:

    Your whole post is just trashing the project, rather than trying to advocate for a heavy-rail based transit project. The RX line could be run by the NYCTA, could act like a Subway, sort of look like a Subway, definitely not smell like a Subway, since it’s not underground, take Metrocards like a Subways, and still share the trackage with heavy rail, as long as vehicles that are FRA-heavy rail are used and clearances are maintained to allow freights through.

    Given that it stays in the city, it should be a Subway line that uses heavy rail equipment, runs every 12 minutes, takes Metrocards with turnstyles, etc. Then freight trains can jump in-between the “Subway” trains, or during off-hours to use the line, hopefully in combination with the cross-harbor freight rail tunnel at some point in the future. It would definitely take some creative operations and dispatching, but it’s not completely impossible. I think looking at STM-Jamaica commuter rail might be interesting in the future as well, it is physically possible to build an interchange between the NYNH&H Bay Ridge Branch and the PRR/LIRR Main Line for passenger equipment, although it would create a bit of a bottleneck between that junction and Hunt’s Point if the RX was also using it (and sharing with Amtrak and MN Penn Access trains between GATE and Hunt’s Point), but it could be figured out.

    Pretty much anything requires Billions of dollars. The West Haven train station was about $100 million for ONE STATION. The actual technical difficulty of this project is pretty low, although it would be higher if preparations (clearances) for the cross-harbor tunnel were done at the same time… If it was a well-managed project, and excluding the political BS lead time, it’s a couple year project if all the stations are done in parallel with the extensive track and catenary work needed (extensive but not out of the ordinary).

    When I’m talking about integration, I’m talking about legitimate sharing and integration with high volumes of both freight and passenger traffic, not one running a tiny bit of service in the other’s domain. LIRR is a passenger road where NY&A gets whatever is left over, same for the Bronx, same for MBTA, as not much goes East of Worcester anymore freight wise, NJ does have a couple lines that are pretty integrated, but in general most of the system is strictly separated, freight from passenger, and Philly also has systems that are mostly separated. Most of the country outside Chicago, LA, and the NEC is freight territory where Amtrak or commuter lines fight to get what they can.

  11. Alex says:

    With freight passenger integration, I’m envisioning a future with the freight rail tunnel and RX where you could stand on a platform midday for an hour and see 6 “Subway” trains and 2 or 3 freight trains each direction, hour after hour. The challenger for RX would be getting the freight trains off to the Maspeth intermodal yard without tying up the Bay Ridge too long. On the other end, it’s easy, they just “follow” a “Subway” train up the line as soon as one leaves so that they’re out of the way for the next one, and going south, there would be a siding for the “Subway” to go into, while the freight blasts by on the main.

  12. Control says:

    It could be done – but it would cost more money than anyone can muster.

    The biggest problem in NYC with major transit projects is corruption. Look at ESA. It’s a fiasco how much time and money is being spent on a relatively short transit line. The tunnel under the river was already built!

    Meanwhile in Vancouver, they decided to build a new subway route, built it and had it running – all within 10 years.

    The political obstacles for the RX would be a problem – placement and construction of stations. I know the transfer at astoria would require eminent domain to widen the viaduct for at lease one middle platform, a proper station building, etc. Astoria is the reason the 1990s N extension to LaGuardia never got past the ‘idea’ phase.

    A lot of the other stops could be built without nearly as much hassle – but you’ll find people in middle village for example – people you’d think would want commuter rail service – they would protest it. They hate the noise from the 2-6 freight trains a day – do you think they’d want to hear commuter trains going by? The people in that part of queens make Archie Bunker look like a nice guy.

    It’s all about money and political will. Both are in seriously short supply around here.

  13. Control says:

    A problem here too is Fresh Pond is now NY&A’s main yard. Yard A was LIRR’s old main yard but it’s gone. The tracks around fresh pond are overflowing with cars – so much so that they store cars all the way down through ENY tunnel and on any siding in ENY they can stuff them.

    Maspeth will never have an intermodal yard, unless they build on the old phelps dodge site (and kick restaurant depo out). It’s currently occupied by a large aggregate customer – aggregates are nearly half the freight traffic in the warm months. Blissville is soon to be a layup for a new MSW trash transfer. In another few years Brooklyn & Queens are going to be in a serious shortage of freight yard space. They just relaid a track fresh pond because they’re desperate for the space. I half suspect they’ll relay 2 more tracks through ENY tunnel so they have more storage sidings.

  14. Alex says:

    Sure, it would cost a lot. It is still possible, however, if the funding were secured. Although it would cost a lot, it’s a far less complex project than ESA, as it’s not really building any new infrastructure like ESA is, it’s just re-doing an existing line…

    This country needs to get over it’s eminent doman phobia that was induced by the Fort Trumbull eminent domain disaster (which today is still abandoned and used as parking for a nearby office building). When used for the right purposes (i.e. not redevelopment), eminent domain is a necessary part of infrastructure development. However, in most cases, it shouldn’t be needed, as the transit project can just approach the landowner, offer them above market value, and it ends up being financially beneficial to both the project and the landowner. Occasionally you’ll get some stubborn old codger who needs to be eminent domained, so you go ahead and do it.

    There is a plan for the Maspeth container yard. Considering how falling apart that area is, I don’t suppose it would be too hard to go in and buy up the land. And the former LIRR trackage where the freight yard is wouldn’t really affect the operations of a heavy-rail transit system on the ex-NYNH&H Bay Ridge branch.

  15. Control says:

    True, it wouldn’t be ESA, if managed well. Unfortunately with the MTA that’s a huge IF.

    The problem I have with eminent domain is that the mere threat of it drives down property values and whoever owns that land can end up with less than they should have gotten. It’s also a problem when the government decides to use it but offers no relocation help to any businesses in the way. Down in Maspeth there’s a company called Karp who’s building will be demoed for the BQE bridge rehab – the powers that be aren’t trying to help them find another space at all – they just want them (and their jobs) gone.

    I heard about that maspeth yard plan years ago but absolutely nothing has happened with it. The area around the tracks down there are pretty full up with active businesses, much like Karp, who don’t want to move. One of them is a huge aggregate customer that took over the existing maspeth yard. The stone trains they receive off hell gate take 50-100 semi trucks off the highways every week. There just isn’t space there for a container yard. You could maybe get some transloading done at the old phelps dodge site – it’s literally the only open plot of land down there (and restaurant depot has half of it) Property values there are really, really high too now. You can’t buy a contaminated lot in the city for under a million. Times have changed a lot more than you might realize.

    You still need a space to put a yard. bay ridge’s 65th street is used by NYNJRR now, which is owned by port authority who has really ramped up the amount of freight going out that end. NYCTA’s work yard at Linden would be a sensible space to store the commuter cars, though it’s not ideal being at neither end of the route. It’s probably the only place they could put a yard frankly, without severely disrupting something else.

  16. Alex says:

    With heavy rail, they could store the cars about anywhere, even if it was off the route itself. The container yard plan includes the cross-harbor tunnel, so it’s pretty big $$$ wise, and probably includes many millions of dollars of property buys (or eminent domain if necessary). There’s another good location for a container yard on the west coast of Brooklyn. NYC could probably use two container yards over there, one rail-truck only, and one rail-ship-truck.

  17. Isaac Logan Schreiber Doughty says:

    Control,

    What about running the line only in Brooklyn, where only one company uses the tracks at a rate of 0.5 trains a day? It can cease connection at Linden BLVD where transfer to the L is available and broadway junction is a skip away. The train yards at 8th and 62nd as well as broadway junction can be used and additional yards can be built on the site of the harbor. Your arguments are very well stated except for your solution of moving closer to work, the entire idea of this track is it would be made for the common people, who cannot afford to live in close proximity to their jobs in NYC. This is also why a subway, as opposed to a commuter rail, which would look different and thus justify costing more, is the favored option. In concern to shipping to long island, why not build a bridge to long island from westchester and leave the city out of it. in terms of intra-city shipping, barging as well as micro-trucks can ease truck traffic congestion.

    -Isaac LS Doughty

  18. Control says:

    You could probably run from Bay Ridge to Broadway Junction, and use the abandoned platform at the tunnel to connect to the rest of the Bway Junction trains.

    8th ave is currently the NY&A / NYNJRR interchange. It could probably be moved into 65th street yard, though There’s not a whole lot of capacity there. I heard a rumor NYCTA was going to vacate Linden, which would be a pretty good commuter rail yard (with some serious work, of course).

    The freight here could run at night. There commuter rail doesn’t have to. Look at the G line – people somehow live near it and get by despite the fact that it barely runs during the day and has half hour headways at night :) I’d be concerned that the freight is growing, but as many point out – other cities make it work.

    I guess I’m an idealist. I look at many other cities around the country (let’s say Denver, for example), where you can live 10 minutes from downtown and pay under $1000 in rent. NYC’s real estate industry is frankly out of control. I grew up in Queens, and will likely leave – not because I don’t love it, but because housing costs here are completely insane. More than half a million to buy a crappy apartment? INSANE. So yeah, I might eat my words some day on ‘just live closer to your job’, or I might just go live someplace where I can have a nice back yard or live in a building full of amenities for half what I pay here. I rather give up on NYC completely before commuting more than an hour to work. There have been tons of studies that show those who live closer to work are generally less stressed and significantly more happy with life. When the weather goes bad, as it has all winter around here this year, those hour commuters only get longer and more aggravating. I’d love to go into a huge rant about how the last few mayors have basically made NYC unaffordable to working people, but I think we all know that and secretly (or not so secretly) seethe about it.

  19. Alex says:

    Isaac, a subway is a terrible idea for all the reasons mentioned above. Also, the plan for the cross-harbor freight tunnel uses the Bay Ridge Branch to connect to Maspeth at domestic double-stack clearance and the rest of the rail network in New England at Plate C clearance.

    Control, Although the commute times can’t be magically turned into 10 minutes, investment in MN and LIRR could cut existing commute times down quite a bit, along with increasing the capacity significantly.

  20. Control says:

    Definitely. And they really need to keep capital projects on time and cost too. The delays with ESA are completely insane when you consider other cities build entire subway routes in less time than that boondoggle.

    I don’t think we’ll ever see stacks to Maspeth. Maspeth yard is currently full with an aggregate customer (aggregates are the largest commodity moved to LI these days), and is a tiny yard to boot (4 tracks total, 2 used by the aggregate customer, 2 for switching all the sidings around there – of which there are surprisingly many). You’d be hard pressed to find enough real estate in that area to build a worthwhile intermodal yard. Maybe out in Suffolk co. there would be space for such a yard? Brookhaven Rail Terminal seems to be growing nicely for an operation that flat out didn’t exist just a few years ago. We would probably need to see Port Authority jack up rates on trucks to really see significant change over. Who knows, they might do it. They’re definitely dabbling in it with NYNJRR & the potential new movement of auto racks and more scrap from the bush terminal area.

  21. Alex says:

    They would have to do some big property plays in order to get stacks to Maspeth, but that’s peanuts compared to actually building the tunnel itself, which would be hugely beneficial to the region, in addition to doing the Gateway project on the passenger side of things. That region is just getting more and more interconnected, and the existing infrastructure is already way overburdened.

    The challenge with stacks is that you can’t get them up the Hell Gate line, beacuse of overhead clearances (I don’t think the Hell Gate Bridge has the clearance for stacks AND wire), and you can’t get them onto LIRR passenger trackage, as they can’t run on top of the third rails. So they are relatively confined to NYC. There are actually two good locations, one in Maspeth, and one on the western edge of Brooklyn. The tunnel would also serve to link New England to New Jersey via rail, and with reuglar freight cars, as well as spine cars for containers, we could receive trains from NJ over the New Haven Line, using the old Oak Point-Cedar Hill route, as well as to Worcester and Davisville.

  22. Control says:

    I’m not sure if double stacks fit under the wires, but if they don’t, they would need to change the polls all the way up the bridge, and maybe move the freight track over to where the track they removed was located so there’d be space for the new polls in the middle of the bridge. Besides that, didn’t Conrail give up on moving freight up the corridor due to high per car charges from Amtrak?

    When you look at all the trucks going across canal street & the GW Bridge, it would seem more like a matter of ‘when’ than ‘if’ with the tunnel. Yes it’s expensive, but the GW bridge is not going to last forever. NYC continues to draw new population, and with that comes crowding, traffic, etc. Sooner or later new infrastructure will be less a ‘nice to have’ and more of a ‘holy crap we need this now’.

    That’s probably still a long way off though – NYNJRR could float a whole lot more cars across the harbor if they had some modern floats & maybe rebuild greenville to have more capacity (they lost all the float bridges there to hurricane sandy.

  23. Alex says:

    Double stacks can fit under wires if they’re high enough. They do it around Philly, but the wires up here are about 4-5 feet too low. I just don’t think the Hell Gate has the clearance for stacks, much less stacks under the wire.

    Unfortunately, in the northeast US especially, there is hundreds of billions of dollars of infrastructure that we are going to get to a “HOLY CRAP” point with, the tunnel being one of the key links among a myriad of other things. We’ve been doing a terrible job of looking ahead for both passenger and freight needs.

  24. Control says:

    Hell gate itself wouldn’t be the problem (cept maybe the aforementioned poles) – the main span structures have plenty of clearance (not 100% sure about Little Hell Gate, but I suspect it too is fine) – though between bowery bay and fresh pond, there are a ton of overpasses that likely are too low. South of Fresh Pond you have East New York tunnel which they lowered somewhat back when LIRR ran the freight and was the trailers on bogies through there – but definitely not able to fit double stacks… progressing south and west from there along the bay ridge branch, there are likely at least 1-3 dozen overpasses that would need to be undercut. It would be a pretty huge undertaking.

    In the 1990s LIRR & Conrail ran some test train with well cars that could hold two stacks, clear the third rail and clear all the overpasses. So far as I know they only ran a test train once, from selkirk straight though to hicksville, only stopping to slap an LIRR engine on the front for ASC. If that well car works on modern cubes, than all of these worries go away.

    I’ve never actually seen photos of this, though if it happened someone somewhere out there must have the report (it’s something I’d love to read – along with the test I think Pennsy did of moving a coal train via penn station -supposedly there is a report of that floating around out there, and they ruled against it because they didn’t think the tunnels could tolerate the weight of regular freight service).

  25. Alex says:

    I don’t believe they got stacks in there. The Hell Gate Bridge is an immovable, solid, constant. Everything else can be ripped out, rebuilt, undercut, whatever. As a part of a $10Bn project a few overpasses that need to be blown up aren’t a big deal.

    There’s no way they cleared that route with stacks. Maybe with some sort of modified and articulated spine cars?

    The Pensey did a coal train through Penn, broke the knuckles, and had to drag the whole thing out piece by piece. Whoops. There are also structural concerns, even more so today, that the cast iron tubes couldn’t take the load. But that’s irrelevant today, as almost nothing on the rails today could fit there there anyways.

  26. Control says:

    I keep hearing about that pennsy coal train test but haven’t seen details – any idea where I can find them?

    Conrail & LIRR did a test train of stacks in a well car that could meet the clearance requirements – or so I’ve been told a few times. Haven’t seen photos or documentation of that one either.

    Pennsy did move at least 50 coal cars in 10 car sets through the tubes in 1918 during a winter where coal (and thus heating) supplies were depleted. Supplies were low enough that people were attacking coal wagons trying to loot it. Dug that up from the NY Times archive earlier today. (some say more was moved but I’d like to see the info from a fairly reliable/widely known source).

    All of this pennsy stuff is moot though since it would absolutely never happen today due to size, broken knuckles and all.

  27. Alex says:

    I read about it online, I don’t remember where….

    I don’t believe that for a second… there physically isn’t clearance there, even for international stacks… Maybe they ran some well cars with only one level and somehow got them to clear the third rail… That’s all I can think of.

    10-car cuts I could see. The closest thing to freight they run today is the RBBX circus train, although I don’t think that’s been through for a few years. There’s a cool YouTube video of two HHP-8’s hauling it through. They were working hard with that fairly large, heavy train, albeit with passenger trucks and passenger car weights.

  28. Control says:

    I have to scan the article I read about the well car test. it was around 1990 if I recall right. I mentioned it on an RR board a few months back and someone on there swore it happened. I’ll never believe it until I see some actual proof though.

    So far as I know the circus train still comes in and out via penn.

  29. Alex says:

    Could be a stack car with only one container on it…

    Does it? Even without using MSG as a venue anymore? What a sight that would be to see!!!

  30. Control says:

    Apparently the circus train moved from NJ to LI (and back) just this last month. The info on this board is usually very reliable: http://www.railroad.net/forums/viewtopic.php?f=63&t=153066&start=15

    Also I found this about the well car test train:
    http://www.railroad.net/forums/viewtopic.php?f=63&t=8722

    I might be remembering the article I saw (probably in railpace) about it being double stacked completely wrong. It just doesn’t seem possible. These test trains probably lead to the ‘bogie’ trailer trains LIRR used to run. The bogies were derailment prone unfortunately, and the service didn’t last very long. The bogies are still on the property though, abandoned and rusting away: http://ltvsquad.com/2006/06/07/the-abandoned-lirr-bogies/

  31. Alex says:

    That makes more sense. It was a truck trailer in a well car, which would be close to normal height.

    Those are some weird shortened well-car-like things.

  32. murray says:

    What about putting a rail trail on the these tracks in Brooklyn in places there is only one freight track on a rail bed that is built for two tracks. Biking/walking on the lightly used Brooklyn section would be a great asset for central and Brooklyn.

  33. Control says:

    I honestly can’t say I have an opinion on that. I’ve walked the route a few times and can tell you it would cost some money to create a path that doesn’t leave one’s feet sore from walking on ballast rocks all day.

  34. murray says:

    Yes it would, but what an amazing investment think about it a many mile bike ride in NYC with not a single road crossing.
    And look how much money was spent on the Hudson River Bike Path, the Highline and Brooklyn Bridge Park. Creating a path on an existing right of way would be way cheaper.

  35. Alex says:

    The trail is a TERRIBLE idea! If that ROW were to be used for some combination of heavy rail transit and freight to support the Cross-Harbor tunnel, then both tracks will be needed!

  36. Control says:

    This is the problem with NYC these days – too many people needing too many things and not enough infrastructure to support it.

    The more I think of this, the more I realize that yes – a lot of people would love it as a bike path… but these days we have a city full of bike paths (and a great many outside of town), and nowhere near enough rail transport of people and goods (particularly the goods part – the price of everything is significantly higher here due to the limited rail infrastructure). A path that sees use by who-knows-how-many people per day, only during the warm months, or more goods moved by rail keeping the price of everything lower? I know where my vote would go.

    Isn’t there a really nice bike path along the bay ridge shoreline? If not there should be.

  37. murray says:

    If the cross harbor freight didn’t happen yet it probably isn’t going to happen. A trail on the other hand is relatively cheap and would be well received by the community.

  38. Control says:

    Maybe, maybe not. I for one though am sick of the ‘if it hasn’t happened it won’t happen’ mindset that even I’ve been guilty of. We should all demand better of our severely corrupt ‘leadership’. With proper investment, you could have more freight, a limited commuter rail & maybe a linear park through parts of the route. The problem you get into at some point is there are parts of the ROW that are really narrow and not well suited for multi purpose use, Towards ENY, you have active freight sidings with switches & multiple tracks. There just isn’t enough space in many areas for them to coexist – and one or the other isn’t an option. Port Authority has invested a load of cash into the current cross harbor RR (which they own and have grown substantially) – and lirr, who owns the bay ridge branch, isn’t one to give up real estate (Wheelspur yard in LIC is a good example of that).

  39. Control says:

    Besides, the bike path along the harbor sure is nicer than going past the junk yard of easy new york. The natives are friendlier too. Kids out in the ghetto still like to throw stuff at anyone they see down on the tracks.

  40. Alex says:

    Control, that’s quite true. NYC is going to need some major transportation changes at some point, or things are just going to keep getting slower and slower. I don’t think there is room for a linear trail, nor really demand on that route. A heavy rail metro/transit sort of thing (technologically heavy rail that runs like a subway) could easily co-exist with freight. Also, eminent domain to get key pieces of property has to be part of the equation. Unfortunately, everyone is scared of eminent domain post Fort Trumbull (which is in my neck of the woods), but we need to get over that, avoid abusing it for commercial development, but use it judiciously for public works projects like road and rail infrastructure.

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