The Lower Montauk: The True Opportunity for Brooklyn-Queens Light Rail

Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley has proposed a light rail reactivation of the Montauk Line, which ended passenger service in 2012 due to low usage and the cost of upgrading the line with federally-mandated PTC. Granted, usage would be low on any rail line that only saw two trains a day and ran express (real passenger service ended in 1998), so Crowley’s argument is that after almost 20 years of growth, running a dependable light-rail service would make good use of lightly-used freight tracks and be a respectively used service.

I would be inclined to disagree, if we were talking about a strict reactivation of the old right-of-way. Past Flushing Ave, the line runs entirely through industrial areas, and even if you were to rezone all of that industrial land and redevelop it (highly unlikely given the lack of manufacturing space remaining in the city,) the presence of Newton Creek, First Calvary Cemetery, the BQE, and the LIE all within a stone’s throw of the line would limit the catchment area of any stations past Flushing Av. In addition, the LIC terminus right now is not very developed; the Hunters Point South development could change that, but besides the East River Ferry the terminus misses the transportation hub at the center of LIC several blocks north.


The rail line in black, and developmental barriers in red.

LIC Industrial2

Long Island City Station, in the lower left of the image, is several blocks away from the nearest E, G, M, N, Q, and R stops.

Fortunately, there is an alternative; a rail line branches off at Andrews Av to head southwest towards Williamsburg.


Such a connection would run on the existing spur line to Bushwick Pl, where the light-rail would run on Montrose Av, Division Av, and Kent Av before terminating at the East River Ferry pier in Williamsburg. A routing on Kent Av would allow connections with the East River Ferry and the planned BQX; but if the routing were to have a negative impact on the Brooklyn-Queens Greenway and the BQX were not to proceed, the line could instead terminate at Roebling St.

Stations were sited to provide maximum connections to the existing transit network and destinations along the way. As far as other potential sites go, there is no station connecting to the Myrtle Av Line because it would not be feasible to build an intermediate station for connections and there is nothing in the immediate area of that rail junction to serve. Likewise, there are no stations between Bushwick Av and Fresh Pond Road because that area is both mostly industrial and a high flood-zone risk; it might not be beneficial to support development in such a flood-prone location. Ultimately, because the station spacing is so sparse, the line could potentially function as an express connection between Jamaica and Williamsburg, in contrast to the frequently-stopping slog that is the J. Because Williamsburg is so much more heavily built up than LIC (and short of ripping up the highways and cemeteries or filling in Newton Creek, will continue to be so), such a line would be better patronized and spur more development than a line to LIC.

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7 comments on “The Lower Montauk: The True Opportunity for Brooklyn-Queens Light Rail
  1. Union Tpke says:

    I like this proposal a lot. How would it be worked out with more and more freight trains using the Lower Montauk and the Bushwick branches?

    Also, where else would you suggest light rail? Staten Island’s West Shore, Pelham Parkway (I agree that this should be an extension of the A, Hillside Avenue?

    • Henry says:

      Light rail in Staten Island should be looked at for both the West and North Shore, and to a lesser extent we should also consider whether or not the SIR best fits Staten Island’s needs using subway equipment. As far as the other boroughs go, light rail has a place rail-stituting heavily used crosstown routes that couldn’t logically be served by heavy rail (i.e., something not in the vicinity of Triboro RX), or rail-stituting and grade-separating in areas where a large amount of bus routes converge (i.e., 181 St in the Bronx/Manhattan, Main St/Kissena Blvd in Flushing.

  2. Anonymous says:

    It’s a great proposal, but I believe you should re-investigate your claim that there’s no good reason to put stops between Bushwick Ave and Fresh Pond Rd. The Bogart St/Morgan Ave area is teeming with residences, bars, restaurants, galleries, shops, etc, and it’s spreading eastward up to Flushing, Wykcoff, and up into Maspeth. Take a walk around the Morgan Avenue L train station, particularly Bogart St, and Flushing Ave between Bogard and Wyckoff.

    • Henry says:

      The issue I have with a Morgan Av stop is that most of everything that would be served by it is already pretty close to a subway stop, the light rail stop at Bushwick Av, or inaccessible from any potential light-rail station because of Newton Creek. I don’t think that many people would get that much use out of a stop there, and on top of that the light rail stop would be in a very high-risk flood zone.

      Potential stations between Fresh Pond Rd and Bushwick Av would be Flushing Av and Metropolitan/Woodward Avs, but either of those would be contingent on redevelopment of the industrial areas surrounding them.

  3. JS says:

    Queens Transit, you made a very similar idea I pictured in my head not too long ago. I envisioned a subway line branching off the F at 2nd Avenue (using the existing tracks) with a few stations in between connecting to the South 4th/Union Ave station shell (today’s Broadway G train station), connect to the L train at Montrose Ave and continue along the Bushwick Branch through a portal, continuing through the Lower Montauk, connecting to the M at Metropolitan Ave/Middle Village and eventually reaching Jamaica, possibly connecting to the Archer Avenue line continuing up to Merrick along side the J or southeastern Queens along with the E (both of which should have an extension, as was planned for the Archer Avenue lines).

    I think that such a plan utilizes existing infrastructure and rights-of-way and will provide more access to the city in areas lacking transit. It would take some pressure off the Queens Blvd line, especially for those in Jamaica, beyond and of course in between, especially Bushwick and Williamsburg.

    However, your plan is a step up from what Crowley offered for sure.

    • Henry says:

      Personally, I don’t believe that we should use SAS tracks for that specifically, for a variety of reasons. SE Queens does not need two lines running together on a pair of tracks (I consider the J/Z one set of lines.) It’d be easier to free up QBL capacity by building the QB Bypass using the Main Line because QB is busier anyways and it also frees up the F and E for further extension. As for the Brooklyn end, I would rather link to underutilized tracks on the Fulton Local and a new line connecting Utica via Lorimer-Metropolitan; S 4 St is no longer where the action in Williamsburg is.

  4. Fredrick Wells says:

    The Q54 LTD a LIGHT RAIL?

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