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Queens Chronicle: Rockaway Beach rail plan to be backed by Reps. Jeffries, Meeks

Supporters of restoring rail service to the long abandoned Rockaway LIRR line may be about to get a major break in their favor.

A source familiar with the plan to bring transit back to the line, which runs from Rego Park to the Rockaways and has been abandoned since 1962, said it will get the backing of the two Congressmen representing southern Queens.

The source says Reps. Hakeem Jeffries (D-Brooklyn) and Greg Meeks (D-Jamaica), whose districts meet at the Ozone Park section of the line, will endorse the proposal and push to allocate federal transportation subsidies to study a plan for bringing rail service back.

The rail idea has been championed by officials in the Rockaways, especially Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Rockaway Park). Supporters of reactivating the line, which connects to the LIRR’s main route into Penn Station at Rego Park, say it would drastically cut commute times for Rockaway residents, which are among the highest in the city. When the LIRR went to Rockaway Park in the 1950s, it took only about 40 minutes to get from the peninsula to Penn Station. Today, a ride on the A train could take more than twice that.

Supporters also argue that the rail line would help spur development in an area that was devastated by Hurricane Sandy.

The plan to reactivate rail service, which has been championed by Goldfeder almost since he came into office in 2010, would run a train, perhaps an extension of a subway line, into the Rockaways and through Ozone Park, Woodhaven, Glendale, Forest Hills and Rego Park. Some versions of the plan feature the line turning off at Atlantic Avenue toward Brooklyn or at the junction with the Long Island City spur of the LIRR in Glendale.

The last train ran down the line in June 1962 and the route south of Rockaway Boulevard is now occupied by the A train.

The news comes after New York Times opinion writer Eleanor Randolph penned a column last weekend about the other proposed plan for the line — the Queensway.

That idea, which would turn the three-and-a-half-mile stretch of abandoned rail line into a Queens version of Manhattan’s High Line, would feature bike and walking trails throughout its entire length.

It has its local supporters, most notably outgoing Community Board 9 Chairwoman Andrea Crawford. Gov. Cuomo’s administration provided $400,000 toward a feasibility study for the High Line idea in January. The money was allocated to parks advocacy group The Trust for Public Land, which said it will embark on a “listening tour” of the communities around the rail right of way to see what is desired there.

In her column, Randolph said the Queensway “would bring more green space, open air and recreation to a borough where parks can be as crowded on weekends as Times Square.”

The plan would also seek to develop restaurants and shops along the line.

She said the idea “offers far more promise than a forest that only thickens while people nearby yearn for places to walk, ride, snack and play.”

But both plans have their opponents, including many of those who live closest to the right of way.

Neil Giannelli, a resident of 98th Street in Woodhaven, made his — and his neighbors’ — opposition to the Queensway plan, and rail service, known at the March 12 Community Board 9 meeting, showing off a petition he passed around to his neighbors. Gianelli’s backyard runs right up against the line.

“Out of all the residents who signed this petition on the block, only one person wanted a train,” Giannelli, who founded the movement “No Way Queensway,” aimed at killing both the rail and park plans, said. “And he’s a 6-year-old boy who likes choo-choos. Everybody else wants it to be left alone.”

South of Atlantic Avenue, the line runs between 99th and 100th streets in a mostly industrial and commercial area, but for most of the rest of the line north of Atlantic, it runs through backyards and alongside homes.

Residents in Forest Hills and Rego Park who live along the line’s stretch in those communities have also opposed either reactivating the line or putting in a park. In the small section in Glendale, just south of Union Turnpike, the right of way runs through the parking lot of the Forest Crescent apartment building. Any development on the line would possibly lead to alterations there.

Giannelli and other residents have expressed concerns about safety, as well as traffic that could clog their otherwise quiet residential blocks.

Ed Wendell, president of the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association, which came out against both plans, said Randolph’s piece didn’t address any of that.

“If they don’t address the concerns that residents have, then it’s really just more puff,” he said.