Crowley standing with a map that shows the Bushwick branch as part of light rail network – photo credit: DNAinfo.com/Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska
If there’s one thing I can’t get enough of, it’s stupid politicians with stupid ideas talking about things they clearly don’t know anything about.
A few months ago I ripped apart NYC councilwoman Liz Crowley’s ridiculous ‘light rail to the mall’ plan. Her original idea was to create a light rail route across the Montauk Cutoff and along the Lower Montauk freight tracks – from LIC to the Atlas Mall in Glendale.
She has apparently modified this idea to be a light rail train running from LIC to Jamaica, with a branch into Bushwick. (It is worth noting that since my last article, the Montauk Cutoff has been officially abandoned, and the MTA is moving forward with leasing the land for community use).
The closest I’ve come to finding any actual official documentation of Crowley’s thinly conceived light rail idea is this poorly formatted .pdf from a community board meeting. It’s hard to read, because the formatting is frankly embarrassing – how can anyone take badly scanned photos and non-rotated pages seriously?
As ridiculous as that .pdf is, at least it contains a very bad image of Crowley’s proposed map. here it is:
Now let’s unpack this map a little. There’s two obvious problems.
1: No Wye
There is currently NO westward facing tracks that connect the Bushwick branch to the Lower Montauk route. According to Crowley’s map, a new track would need to be installed connecting these two, entirely seperate train tracks roughly where this red line is:
Crowley’s non-existent bushwick wye
Guess what? There are active warehouse buildings right where that red line is. What we’re really talking about is eminent domain and the eviction of blue collar businesses – resulting in a loss of jobs. There are also rail customers on the segment of freight track off the Lower Montauk that serve food distribution and construction customers. Loosing these rail sidings will drive up shipping costs that will be passed directly to NYC consumers. It would also result in significant new truck traffic into NYC. Good job Crowley.
Currently the Bushwick branch only connects to the Lower Montauk tracks at Bushwick Junction, where the tracks face east (towards Jamaica, not LIC). To modify the tracks here to face LIC, the city would have to buy/eminent domain the massive warehouses over the tracks, and demolish them. Even that might not be enough space due to the require curvature of the track. They might have to deck over part of Flushing avenue and / or close part of it to accommodate this new single track connection. Sounds a little expensive, doesn’t it?
2: 23rd street stop: Seriously?
The second problem with this map is just hilarious. It shows a station stop at 23rd street in LIC.
Here is where that station would be located:
Team Crowley just proposed building a light rail station BEHIND fresh direct (where there is no public access) and next to Wheelspur yard (where there is no public access). Why the hell would you build a light rail station where there is no way to get passengers from the platform to the street?
You’ll have to pardon my french here but… Is this a fucking joke? Who made this map?
The Bushwick Branch itself:
This new addition of the Bushwick Branch is even more ill-informed and preposterous than her original idea. For reference, the Bushwick branch is a single track stretch of freight railroad running east-west from Bushwick Junction (on the lower montauk branch), to the former Bushwick terminal, located at montrose avenue.
So let’s look at all the reasons this is a bad idea.
The bushwick branch has 8 railroad crossings – which is nearly 1/3rd of all the railroad crossings in NYC. In 2003, a runaway locomotive smashed into several cars at these crossings, sending nearly a half dozen people to the hospital. Since some of the crossings are rather busy (Metropolitan ave, Woodward, and Morgan) the freight trains that run on these tracks run at night, and stop at every crossing. Light rail trains would mean a huge increase in the number of trains using this track – increasing the inherit dangers of these crossings exponentially.
The power source for these light rail trains could also be dangerous. Electrified 3rd rails on tracks that are porous to trespassers (you can’t lock up a railroad crossing with fences) would be inviting danger. Likewise, overhead power lines can be hit by tall trucks and fall during storms. Diesel powered trains would add to air pollution in the neighborhood.
Runaway LIRR locomotive that nearly killed many…
It’s a single track route
The Bushwick branch is a single track route. It has no signal system. To run passenger trains here, you’ll need both. Unfortunately for Crowley, adding a second track would mean buying and demolishing neighboring businesses and homes. There is also a single track bridge across the far south end of Newtown creek that would require a second bridge installed next to it. There are a few spots along the route where there are multiple tracks, but those extra tracks are used to switch and load/unload the trash and construction cars. Often the tracks between Woodward and Metropolitan are completely blocked by freight cars.
Whoever owns this house better look out cuz Crowley wants you out!
Single Track bridge over Newtown Creek
Interference with existing commerce
Currently, the single track here is used to transport beer, building materials, and trash. Manhattan Beer, just east of Metropolitan avenue, receives freight cars of beer. The building materials go to Kings – which has rented out the entirety of the former Bushwick yard at the far west end of the line. They receive freight cars of crushed stone (for ready mix), bricks, lumber and rebar. The largest freight customer is Waste Management, which loads 12-15 freight cars per day of residential trash from across North Brooklyn.
This is important, because running light rail trains along this track would interfere with this key piece of NYC infrastructure. The trash trains simply must keep moving – 6 days a week, 52 weeks a year. NYC has no landfills, and the tide of residential trash is relentless and never ending. Switching to trucks would result in up 60 trailer trucks per day driving through the neighborhood – on long haul trips to landfills in other states (Ohio, South Carolina). It would require hiring hundreds of truck drivers, all at NYC taxpayer expense. All of these trash trains basically makes the Bushwick Branch into North Brooklyn’s asshole. This is where your shit leaves NYC. Without it, things will get uncomfortable and toxic very quickly.
Let’s not discount the building materials either: without ways to transport building materials into NYC, construction costs will go up, which will in turn increase real estate and rental costs.
And beer. It’s never a good idea to get between drunks and their booze supply.
Rail cars for transporting all of North Brooklyn’s garbage.
The math is ridiculous
All of this said, let’s tally up the costs of running light rail on the Bushwick Branch: Double tracking the entire route, with 2 new bridges, eminent domain, demolition of buildings. New signal system, enhanced grade crossing protection, and new sidings or yard space to separate the freight trains from the light rail trains. All of this is very, very expensive – and that’s assuming we can keep the trash trains running and not hire hundreds of truck drivers to replace it.
Does this sound like a plan that is at all realistic for NYC to undertake right now, considering all of our various transit needs? Does it sound like a good value for taxpayers?
And who would take this train? It would be a circuitous route to LIC and Jamaica – neither of which are large destinations for the small population that lives near these tracks.
The worst part about all of this isn’t how bad the idea is – it is that it is seriously being pushed as completely viable by an NYC elected official who outright refuses to pay any attention to these details.