2020 marked the first year I hadn’t attended any Mets games at Citifield or Shea Stadium in many years, to my knowledge, but there were just 30 games all year, and no fans were attending in any case, due to the Covid Pandemic. It was a forgettable year anyway, as the team never really hit the ground running and won no more than 3 games in a row the entire season.
I do intend to attend (how’s that for a phrase) sometime in 2021 and I did find myself at Citifield twice in March 2021, to obtain Covid vaccine shots. And each time, I wound up taking the LIRR to the Mets-Willets Point station and walking to Citifield on the bridge crossing the Corona Yards. The first week was delightful, the sun was out, though it was brisk, and the vaccine center was near the Jackie Robinson Rotunda. The second time, three weeks later? Not quite as pleasant: it was pouring rain, the vaccine center had been moved to McFadden’s, the Citifield bar, which is located on Seaver Way (126th Street) about as far away from the train as possible. I also got aches, pains, fatigue and some fever the next day. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad to be vaccinated.
Naturally it did not occur to me until my second trip that it might be a good idea to get photos of the Mets-Willets Point LIRR station. Years ago, I did a survey for FNY of the stations of the Port Washington LIRR, my branch since moving to Queens in 1993. But I hadn’t really done much with the Willets Point stop. Thus I resolved to get a few more photos this time, and throw in some vintage shots, even though the weather was miserable.
The Passerelle Boardwalk over the Corona Yards connects the LIRR Mets-Willets Point station to both Citifield and also goes into Flushing Meadows-Corona Park and Arthur Ashe Stadium. Passerelle is a French name for a walkway. Today, the yard was full of R142/R 188 (which are renovated R 142) subway cars first introduced in 2003.
I obtained this shot from the boardwalk in 1999 during a Long Island RR “fan trip” in which an engine pulled a consist of passenger cars on the Port Washington branch, which usually didn’t frequent these electrified tracks. At the time, these passenger cars were being phased out as new electrified double-decked cars were being introduced for lines without electrified tracks. After stopping here, the consist returned to Sunnyside Yards and switched tracks to the LIRR Main Line and visited locales out east.
In this shot we can also see that the Corona yards were servicing R33/36 “redbird” cars that were retired in 2003. The Flushing Line then employed R-62 and R-62A cars, first introduced in 1982, while R-142s were gradually introduced. Today, R-62/R-62As remain the workhorses of the #1, 3 and 6 trains.
On the platform, fluorescent lamps were still in use. They were switched out for brighter LED lamps in the 2000s.
In my opinion, the Mets-Willets Point station really should be a crown jewel in the LIRR tiara, but the MTA doesn’t see it that way. It is the gateway to: Citifield; the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center and Arthur Ashe Stadium; and Flushing Meadows-Corona Park and its World’s Fair tradition of 1939/1940 and 1964/65. The symbol of Queens, the stainless steel Unisphere, is nearby. In early 2021, the station was a vital link to the vaccination center at Citifield.
Instead it is a nondescript metal shed. Wheelchair-bound and otherwise disabled individuals cannot use it; they need to take their chances with the elevators at Woodside or Flushing-Main Street and take the #7 train to get to Citifield or the tennis center. The staircases, at least in March 2021, were rusting and had salt accumulation from winter storms.
The Mets-Willets Point station is actually the newest of any of the stations on the Port Washington branch; it opened in 1939, when the first World’s Fair did. It was built with two platforms, as extra service was added for Fairgoers, and also had a futuristic-looking canopy covering the entrance on the Passerelle Boardwalk. The present station is relatively new and was constructed expressly for the 1964-65 Fair (see Comments below)
After the Fair closed, Flushing Meadows was developed into a public park and venues such as the New York State exhibit house were retained. The latter actually became a temporary HQ for the United Nations and the station was named for it between 1946 and 1952. In 1961 the station was again named for the World’s Fair; both the Fair and Shea Stadium opened in 1964, and the station stop named for the Stadium in 1966.
When Shea Stadium closed at the end of the 2008 season (a disappointing one for Met fans, as they were eliminated from playoff position with a loss to the Florida (Miami) Marlins), signage was changed to Mets-Willets Point. This sign, at 62nd Street off Woodside Avenue, is the last Shea Stadium sign still in place.
Looking south from the station entrance, this peaked gateway dates back to the opening of the Worlds’s Fair in 1964.
Formerly, Shea Stadium was directly in front of you as you crossed the Corona Yards. Citifield was constructed from 2007-2009 just east of it.
Mets-Willets Point is painted on occasion in Mets blue and orange. The entrance steps go to both Penn and Port Washington-bound trains on the center platform (along the branch, only Auburndale and Mets-Willets Point have a center platform).
From March through at least May, infrequent service is the rule on the Port Washington. The LIRR severely slashed service due to budget cuts and diminished ridership during the Covid Pandemic; service was largely restored on other branches when the federal government coughed up some cash in a Covid relief bill. However, service will remain abysmal on the Port Washington through May 2021, the MTA says, because of a rail tie replacement program (which had been long overdue, in any case). This will be troublesome as the Mets have begin permitting partial crowds for games.
Just the basics: the sign points to the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.
The just-the-basics theme continues on the platforms, but at least there are plastic rain sheds.
People waiting for trains see a lot of barbed wire here. I see the need to protect the Corona Yards against vandals and would-be terrorists, but I’d erect an opaque fence in front of the barbed wire for esthetic purposes.
The public is of course enjoined from walking the tracks. However I frequently see LIRR personnel debarking the train and making their way to a facility at the west end of the platform. Unless I’m wrong (say so in Comments) they have to carefully pick their way across two live trackways and two third rails.
A look from the west end does give passengers a look at some real railroading. In 1915, the Pennsylvania Railroad, which then operated the LIRR, instituted a position-light signaling method consisting of nine lights on a circular mount. Turning on various lights on the mount told train operators how or if to proceed. The Baltimore & Ohio and other railroads later adopted the method. This arrangement of lights indicates a full stop.
A curio of the Mets-Willets Point station is the presence of an unconnected trackway seen from the east end of the platform, a last remnant of the LIRR Whitestone Branch, which served College Point and Whitestone until 1932. The LIRR offered to sell the tracks to NYC for use as a subway line (which would likely transfer from the Flushing Line) but the city balked amid the Depression. A frequent refrain for NYC subway buffs is “oh what could have been, and oh what still could be.”
A short-lived RR, the Central Railroad of Long Island, also branched southeast from here between 1872 and 1879; much if its right of way in Queens is now occupied by Kissena Corridor Park.
Mets-Willets Point is not actually located in Willets Point, which is actually a few miles away in Fort Totten. The station is named for Willets Point Boulevard, a diagonal street running through the heart of the Iron Triangle. Much of it has been closed, at least temporarily, in 2021.
Whither this neglected station? Plans have been announced to make it part of the NY-NJ Port Authority AirTrain system, already in existence at Newark and Kennedy Airport. The plan, championed by Governor Andrew Cuomo, would build a massive AirTrain terminal here, with the monorail running along the Cross Island Parkway to La Guardia Airport. This plan would finally add elevators and escalators to the station at last; however, it’s been criticized for impracticality and cost by some transit advocates.
The impractical arguments come because it would force flyers and their luggage onto already overburdened #7 trains and on the LIRR, which, as shown above, is run even more inconsistently then ever. The Port Washington is separate from other LIRR branches, and from other points on Long Island, a flyer would have to travel west to Woodside, board a PW branch train there and take it to Mets-Willets Point.
Another solution exists as an addition to the AirTrain project or as an alternative: extending the N train from Astoria along Grand Central Parkway or through the Astoria Con Ed plant and then along 19th Avenue to LGA, but such plans have never materialized because of politics and money.
There may have been another means of getting people to LGA by mass transit, had it been allowed to continue: The IND World’s Fair Line, which ran for just two years, 1939-1940, along the east end of Flushing Meadows Park and just west of Cedar Grove and Mount Hebron Cemeteries.
The line’s route can be traced along the dotted line east of the Park on this 1941 Gousha map. It connected to the 71st-Continental stop, serving today’s E, F, M and R trains, and ended at a station at Horace Harding Boulevard, today’s Long Island Expressway, just west of the entrance to Mount Hebron Cemetery. It could have been extended north to LGA, but NYC’s traffic czar Robert Moses had other ideas: the Van Wyck Expressway now occupies the real estate where the subway extension used to run. The subway also could have served the Queensboro Hill community south of the LIE. The line also did not match construction specifications of other routes.
Again, the familiar refrain: “oh, what coulda been.”