BAY RIDGE — The MTA says it will begin studying a plan to bring passenger trains back to the Bay Ridge Branch, a stretch of Long Island Railroad-owned, above-ground tracks between Bay Ridge and Queens that’s been moving only freight for the past 95 years.
The branch runs from Fresh Pond Yards in Ridgewood, through East New York, Flatbush, Midwood and Bensonhurst, then ends in Bay Ridge. The line carried passengers from its opening in 1876 until 1924.
If the branch were to reopen to commuters, it would be the first step toward realizing the larger Triboro RX plan, a 24-mile rail line first proposed in 1996 by urban research nonprofit the Regional Plan Association. The Triboro would loop around the city through a patchwork of existing rail, which passenger trains would share with freight trains.
The Triboro would carry passengers from Bay Ridge, through Brooklyn and Queens and up to Co-Op City in the Bronx. Along its route, it would cross paths with 17 existing subway lines and four LIRR and Metro-North commuter lines, giving passengers many more connection options.
“The line runs through a lot of communities that don’t have excellent rail service right now, including transit deserts where there’s limited rail,” said Kate Slevin, senior vice president of state programs and advocacy at RPA.
Assembly Member Latrice Walker introduced a bill in June that would require the MTA to study the Triboro plan’s feasibility. That bill is currently in committee and has not yet been calendared for a vote, but Slevin said its introduction may have helped to encourage the MTA to undertake the Bay Ridge Branch study on their own.
Several City Council members whose districts lie along the Triboro route have already expressed interest in the proposal. Justin Brannan, who represents Bay Ridge, added his support.
“I think it’s an idea whose time has come. To have a line directly connecting Bay Ridge and the Bronx would be huge,” Brannan told the Brooklyn Eagle in an email. “We can’t be afraid to dream big and focus on long-term planning to resolve the infrastructure crises that dog us,” he added.
According to the RPA, bus rides make up 43 percent of transit trips in the Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn, where the city’s buses average about 7 mph.
The RPA estimates that, because much of the rail is already in place, the cost of building the entire Triboro would be between $1 and $2 billion, mostly for new signals, rail cars and stations, and for some new track. In contrast, Manhattan’s Second Avenue Subway, which extended the Q line north with four new stations in 2017, took about $4.5 billion and nearly 100 years to get built.
Slevin told the Eagle that the RPA does not yet have a cost estimate for the Bay Ridge Branch.
The MTA recently studied the possibility of resuming passenger service along the Rockaway Beach Branch, which runs from Rego Park to Queens, and, as NY1 reported, concluded that that project would cost nearly $6.8 billion.
Critics have pointed out potential problems with the Triboro proposal, including scheduling problems that could arise from sharing tracks with freight trains.
The MTA has said it will begin the Bay Ridge Branch study by the end of this year.
“We’re thrilled to see the study move forward,” said Slevin. “It really shows how the MTA is looking for creative ideas to make the most of our existing rail.”