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Passenger service urged in rail freight improvement bid

A series of Port Authority options for improving rail freight to and from Long Island should be broadened to include passenger service, a key planning group says.

Adding passenger trains would link parts of Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx that are now underserved by city subways, and would create transfer points with the Long Island Rail Road, according to the Regional Plan Association.

The current planning process by the Port Authority "offers a once-in-a-generation opportunity" to expand mass transit, the group said in a statement submitted to the agency March 20, the deadline for public comment.

The Port Authority held seven public hearings over the past two months on a set of 10 options to improve freight service between downstate New York and New Jersey.

They range from expanding the current system of taking rail cars across by barge between Jersey City and Brooklyn, to digging a tunnel under New York Harbor.

The Port Authority plans to recommend this summer whether to proceed with any of the proposals, which carry price tags starting at $100 million to expand the current barge system, to $11 billion to dig and equip a new New York-New Jersey tunnel.

The not-for-profit Regional Plan Association said passenger service could be added from the Brooklyn side of the freight operation along the existing Bay Ridge railroad right-of-way through Brooklyn, up into Queens and across the Hells Gate Bridge before terminating at Co-op City in the East Bronx.

There would be several spots in Queens that could serve as transfer points for the LIRR, according to Richard Barone, director of transportation programs at the planning group.

"One possibility is White Pot Junction, around Queens Boulevard and 73rd Street, were there is a triangle of lines," Barone said in an interview Wednesday.

"There are several other places where the Bay Ridge line does intersect with the LIRR, and that could provide some options for folks who live on the Island," he said.

Currently, freight coming up the East Coast to Long Island has three delivery options:

Transfer it to trucks in New Jersey and drive across a bridge into New York.

Travel north by rail to Selkirk, New York, near Albany, and back down on the east side of the Hudson River.

Load the rail cars onto barges to Brooklyn, where the cars are put on the old Bay Ridge line that carries them into Queens, where they switch to LIRR tracks and continue east.

"Other metro areas in the U.S. and around the world have successfully mixed freight and passengers operations," the planning group wrote in its comment to the Port Authority.


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