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MTA eyes creating passenger rail line in Bay Ridge

Trains would connect riders to subway lines, LIRR

BAY RIDGE — All aboard!

It’s still years from happening, but a freight train line that runs beneath the Bay Ridge Towers on 65th Street could be expanded to include a full-scale passenger rail line if a study the Metropolitan Transportation Authority commissioned Wednesday results in a favorable finding.

The MTA announced on Jan. 22 that it has awarded a $1.3 million contract to the engineering firm AECOM to study the feasibility of starting passenger service utilizing the Bay Ridge Branch, a 16-mile-long, freight-only rail line running from Bay Ridge/Sunset Park to Astoria, Queens.

The study will evaluate the potential for subway, commuter rail, light rail or bus service that would operate in conjunction with existing freight rail service, according to the MTA.

The Bay Ridge Branch operates between the Brooklyn waterfront and Astoria, passing through Boro Park, Midwood, East New York, Brownsville, Bushwick, Glendale, Middle Village and Elmhurst along its route.

The route crosses or travels within close proximity of 19 subway lines as well as the Long Island Rail Road.

MTA Chief Development Officer Janno Lieber called the concept of a passenger train on the Bay Ridge Branch exciting and said it “could allow the MTA to serve more neighborhoods and provide better connections to thousands of people throughout Brooklyn and Queens, all while also creating opportunities for increasing environmentally-friendly freight rail in years to come.”

Even better, according to Lieber, is that expanding an existing train line allows the MTA to initiate new passenger service without having to build subway stations from scratch.

Councilmember Justin Brannan, who noted that the idea of having passenger train service on the Bay Ridge Branch has been talked about for more than 20 years, said he’s excited to see the MTA move forward with a study.

“This idea has been kicking around since the ‘90s and I think it’s an idea whose time has come,” Brannan told the Home Reporter.

“In times of emergency, looking past what’s immediately in front of us seems implausible but we can’t be afraid to dream big and focus on long-term planning to resolve the infrastructure crises that dog us. Investing in the livability of our city, especially in the other boroughs, where people of diverse incomes live and raise their families, is and should be our most urgent priority. Together, we can build a better city, and we can start by reimagining relics like the Bay Ridge Branch,” said Brannan, a Democrat representing parts of Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights and Bensonhurst.

The initial concept of a passenger service on the Bay Ridge Branch was originally developed by the Regional Plan Association, an urban research and advocacy organization.

Tom Wright, president and CEO of the Regional Plan Association, said the organization is thrilled that the MTA is moving forward.

“Transit service on the Bay Ridge Line would not only provide better transit service between the outer boroughs but also cut construction and acquisition costs since the rail tracks are already there. This study will build on our initial concept, and evaluate cost, feasibility, among other issues, to help push the project forward. We are excited to keep working with the MTA and all other partners on this,” Wright said.

Josephine Beckmann, district manager of Community Board 10 in Bay Ridge, said the board will be monitoring the developments as the study progresses. “We are going to look at it closely because the rail line runs under the Bay Ridge Towers,” she told the Home Reporter.

The existing freight line has from time to time generated complaints from residents of the Bay Ridge Towers co-op buildings, according to Beckmann. “We have heard from residents of the Towers about vibrations and noise,” she said.

The southern part of the Bay Ridge Branch is owned by MTA Long Island Rail Road and used for freight trains operated by the New York & Atlantic Railway. The northern part is owned by CSX Transportation, a freight railroad company.

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