by Kevin Walsh

The MTA is doing a $1 million study to possibly revive the Long Island Rail Road Bay Ridge Branch for passenger service, which hasn’t been there since 1924. Currently, much of this line is a freight railroad with a single track that runs from the Upper New York Bay waterfront at 65th Street with a connection to the Brooklyn Army Terminal east and northeast through such neighborhoods as Bay Ridge, Bensonhurst, Midwood, Flatbush, East New York, Ridgewood and Glendale into the MTA’s Fresh Pond Yards facility. From there, CSX Railroad runs another freight line, the NY Connecting Railroad, north through Glendale, Elmhurst, Jackson Heights and Astoria across the Hell Gate Bridge to the Oak Point Yards in the Bronx.

The MTA proposes to reactivate the Brooklyn and Queens legs of the route (which was also considered for the abandoned Cross Brooklyn Expressway project), creating a new “crosstown” passenger line that would not go to Manhattan but cross over a dozen existing subway routes, offering transfers to Manhattan-bound lines. Since the new route is in the preliminary stages of preparation, straphangers shouldn’t expect any trains to be running, if they run at all, until the 2030s at the earliest, and that would likely be only for the Brooklyn leg. A Queens Phase II would likely open later than that. When that happens, the feasibility of crossing the Hell Gate Bridge (or its replacement; the bridge opened in 1917) would likely be considered. Remember, all that is speculation on my part.

The Bay Ridge Branch would combine passenger and freight operations and would take the form of heavy rail (a subway or surface way); light rail, like the proposed BQX project; or even an express busway. It would be known as the Triboro BX line at its furthest extent into the Bronx. As the subway blogger and mapmaker who calls himself Vanshnookenraggen notes, the line has ben bandied around since 1996.

Though there are several rights-of-way ripe for the plucking to allow greater transit outreach to several underserved neighborhoods (such as the ruined LIRR Rockaway Branch) one unwritten rule of New York’s transit agencies over the years has been “taken out of service, never put back in.” This rule even extends to line identifiers — the H, once an IND shuttle to the Rockaway peninsula, the K — once the Eighth Avenue local (now the C) and even the #8 train (once the IRT Bronx Third Avenue el) have never been used again! (OK: The H was briefly brought back as a post-Sandy shuttle from Broad Channel to the Rockaways.)

The East New York transit interchange — which connects the 8th Avenue – Fulton Street line (A, C) with the Broadway line (J) and Canarsie (L) — could be even better if the old Bay Ridge tracks could be activated for passenger service. But, even in times when the MTA is not millions in debt, it would never revive the line and so the NYA will likely have unlimited dominance for years to come. But railfans can dream. There was a time when trains were actually built to the middle of nowhere because real estate developers were sure to enter any area with good mass transit. The title card shows the still-existent East New York platform of the Bay Ridge LIRR branch from the collection of LIRR historian Ron Ziel. Can it see service again after a century? We shall see.

Check out the ForgottenBook, take a look at the gift shop, and as always, “comment…as you see fit.”



Tal Barzilai January 24, 2020 - 7:04 pm

Unfortunately, I feel that the Triboro RX won’t be built in the near future, and this is mainly either due to costs or the MTA dragging their feet on this despite the fact that it would help much of the outlying areas of the city that don’t get a lot of good transit.

Joe Fliel January 24, 2020 - 7:15 pm

“In 2009, the MTA will likely retire, for good, the W and Z designations.”

Huh?!? Have you been using my temporal vortex distortion generator when writing this, Kevin? Or, is this a case of predicting the past? In either case, it didn’t happen.

Kevin Walsh January 24, 2020 - 7:24 pm

You got me. Sometimes, I reuse older material. I’ve eliminated that sentence.

Metro Cardiac January 24, 2020 - 9:42 pm

I’ve forever been for this proposal; whether I live to see its ribbon cutting ceremony is another story altogether. Would also love to see the long ago proposed extension of the Nostrand Avenue line to Sheepshead Bay as well as the Utica Avenue line from Eastern Parkway to Mill Basin/Kings Plaza. No more “transit deserts”!

Metro Cardiac January 30, 2020 - 1:51 pm

Also: An extension of the Canarsie Line from the Rockaway Parkway terminus down to Flatlands Avenue eastbound to serve Starrett City & the (finally) growing Spring Creek community.

Andy Koeppel January 25, 2020 - 12:12 am

A feasibility study would need to have projections of passenger ridership that would justify creating that type of service.
We must remember that subway service in most areas served by the Bay Ridge line plus the advent of cars were
primarily responsible for the low ridership that resulted in the LIRR discontinuing passenger service. Unless there is
evidence that freight operations will expand beyond existing capacity, it would be difficult to justify a major upgrade
resulting in more than the one track now in use.

Andy January 25, 2020 - 12:28 pm

The LIRR Bay Ridge once handled a lot more freight than it does now. The Upper Bay – Bay Ridge route was used to move heavy freight between New Jersey and points south to New England. Pennsylvania RR freight trains from New Jersey were barged across Upper NY Bay to the 65th Street terminal in Bay Ridge. From there, New Haven RR hauled freight trains across Hell Gate to New England. The New Haven RR used electric freight engines, and the entire line was under overhead wire. As freight traffic declined, the overhead electric lines were razed in 1969-70 and replaced with diesel engines. More info is in this Wikipedia article

My entire career has been in the transportation field, so I feel that reviving passenger service on this line makes sense because it crosses a large number of existing commuter rail and subway routes. However, rebuilding opens a whole library of issues – engineering, motive power, station locations, potential travel demand, etc. At the very least, a second track would have to be restored. Will be interesting to follow the course of this study.

Bill Tweeddale January 27, 2020 - 1:18 pm

I spent many an afternoon hanging out in the 50th Street underpass of the LIRR-BRB in Borough Park, doing things I shouldn’t have been doing. As long as we were home for supper, our parents didn’t question our activities back in those days…

Anonymous January 27, 2020 - 10:38 pm

Maybe an easier lift is extending the M from metropolitan Ave to Jackson Heights ands extending the L train to Bay Ridge.

Mitch45 January 28, 2020 - 4:07 pm

No chance in hell the line is reactivated.


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