NYC MTA sees easiest light rail option in Brooklyn-Queens route
To build a new transit connection between Brooklyn and Queens, a streetcar may be what the MTA desires.
Transit officials have identified light rail cars as the easiest way to deliver Governor Hochul’s proposed Interborough Express project, which aims to bring passenger service to a 14-mile set of tracks freight from Bay Ridge to Jackson Heights.
Since January, authorities have also considered using the line for conventional commuter trains like those of the LIRR or Metro-North. The construction of a road dedicated to buses is also on the table.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority hasn’t decided which idea would work best — but a few constraints laid out by transit officials Thursday night at a town hall could prompt the agency to move forward with light rail.
Trains like those used on New Jersey’s Hudson-Bergen light rail, which runs on the west side of the Hudson River from Bayonne to North Bergen, could fit alongside freight trains that travel the planned route. A new dedicated roadway specially built for buses only could also be suitable.
But heavier trains like those on the subway or commuter rail lines can be too big. Unlike light rail trains that run on overhead power lines, heavier trains would require the MTA to build new elevated platforms above street level.
A century-old tunnel along the line in eastern New York poses another challenge. Trains like those on the LIRR or Metro-North can’t go through the tube, and a metro-like heavy rail option would require the MTA to buy nimble specialty cars like those that run on the PATH.
“Standard light rail vehicles can enter this tunnel without modification, as people would exit closer to the ground, and there is room for people to exit into an adjacent tunnel in an emergency,” Michael said. Shiffer, one of the MTA’s top planners.
“Bus rapid transit would require specialized buses with specialized guideways to allow the bus to operate safely within the narrow confines of the tunnel,” Shiffer said.
The biggest engineering challenge that the light rail option bypasses is a level crossing at Metropolitan Ave. in Ridgewood, Queens.
CSX, a freight rail company, operates trains in a tunnel under the avenue — but there’s no room for MTA passenger trains, Shiffer said.
That means a heavy rail option would require the MTA to build its own tunnel that passes under the agency’s Fresh Pond Yard and under All Faiths Cemetery, an undertaking that Shiffer said would entail “significant cost and risk.” .
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MTA officials said the buses could operate on streets above ground. The same goes for light rail cars, which can run on battery power for short distances where overhead cables cannot be built.
The Toronto Transit Commission operates light rail transit on the streets in some sections of the city. “It requires a significant amount of traffic engineering,” Shiffer said. But such a system would be easier to build than a tunnel under a rail yard and cemetery.
The light rail could also support a new transit link to LaGuardia Airport.
After Governor Hochul scrapped the AirTrain planned by former Governor Andrew Cuomo at LaGuardia last year, Port Authority officials went back to the drawing board. One option on the table is a light rail link between the airport and the northern terminus of the Interborough Express in Jackson Heights.
MTA bosses plan to choose their preferred option for the line later in the next six weeks as they move forward with a federally required environmental review, Shiffer said.
Transit officials plan to run trains or buses along the line every five to 15 minutes, with an end-to-end running time of around 45 minutes. MTA planners have not yet identified the number of stops on the line, but the route would provide transfers to subway lines at 10 different locations.
Shiffer said the project would cost “several billion dollars”. It’s unclear how much the agency would save by opting for a light rail option, but the smaller trains would be cheaper and avoid an expensive tunnel project under Metropolitan Ave.