The Rockaway Beach Branch was a rail line owned and operated by the Long Island Rail Road in Queens, New York City, United States. The line left the Main Line at Whitepot Junction in Rego Park, heading south via Ozone Park and across Jamaica Bay to Hammels in the Rockaways, turning west there to a terminal at Rockaway Park. Along the way, it junctioned with the Montauk Branch near Glendale, the Atlantic Branch near Woodhaven, and the Far Rockaway Branch at Hammels. After a 1950 fire, the Jamaica Bay bridge was closed, and the line south of Ozone Park sold to the city, which rehabilitated it and connected it to the New York City Subway system as the IND Rockaway Line.
Southbound track at White Pot JunctionThe New York, Woodhaven and Rockaway Railroad was incorporated on March 21, 1877 and organized March 24 to build a 3 foot 6 inch (1067 mm) narrow gauge line from Greenpoint, Brooklyn (connecting with the New York and Manhattan Beach Railway) via Cypress Hills and Woodhaven to Rockaway Beach. The plans were later changed (on March 13, 1878) to build a standard gauge line from Hunter's Point rather than Greenpoint. An agreement was made with the Long Island Rail Road in 1880 to operate over its Montauk Division to Bushwick and Hunter's Point (via trackage rights from Glendale Junction) and Atlantic Division to Flatbush Avenue (carried by LIRR locomotives from Woodhaven Junction). In order to support the extra traffic, the LIRR agreed to double-track the Montauk Division west of Richmond Hill and the Atlantic Division west of Woodhaven Junction. After a delay caused by financial problems, the line opened on August 26, 1880, and the LIRR stopped running trains from its New York terminals to Rockaway Beach via Valley Stream and its Far Rockaway Branch. It continued to operate through trains to Far Rockaway, as well as trains between Long Beach and Rockaway Beach. Glendale Junction remnantThe company went bankrupt and was sold under foreclosure on July 30, 1887 to Austin Corbin, owner of the LIRR, who reorganized it as the New York and Rockaway Beach Railway (NY&RB) on August 19, 1887 and transferred the property on September 1, 1887. The old Far Rockaway Branch west of Arverne was soon connected to the NY&RB at Hammels, and was abandoned west of the new connection. The NY&RB began operating trains to Far Rockaway over this connection. Rockaway Park station before 1913From July 17, 1898 to 1917, the Brooklyn Elevated Railroad (later Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company) operated trains from Williamsburg (later Lower Manhattan) to Rockaway Beach (at the western part of the Rockaway Peninsula), using a connection to the Atlantic Avenue Division at Chestnut Street Junction (in present-day East New York) and the Rockaway Beach Division south of Woodhaven Junction.
The NY&RB was operated independently until July 1, 1904, when the LIRR leased it as the Rockaway Beach Division. The line south of Woodhaven Junction was part of the LIRR's first electrification, along with the Atlantic Avenue Division west to Flatbush Avenue, with electric passenger service beginning July 26, 1905. Steam trains continued to serve Rockaway Park from Long Island City until June 16, 1910, when the electrified Glendale Cut-off opened, extending the line north from Glendale on the Montauk Division to White Pot Junction at Rego Park on the Main Line. At the same time, the Rockaway Beach Division was electrified north of Woodhaven Junction, and the Main Line was electrified west of Rego Park (and into Penn Station when the East River Tunnels opened on September 8, 1910). The New York and Rockaway Beach Railway was merged into the LIRR on July 19, 1921. Underpass for northbound track== Final years: 1950-1962== A fire on the trestle across Jamaica Bay between The Raunt and Broad Channel stations cut service on the middle section of the line on May 8, 1950. Service continued west of Hammels via the Far Rockaway Branch. The LIRR saw the Rockaway Beach Branch south of Ozone Park as a liability, and sought to either sell or abandon it. The city of New York, however, saw great potential in extending subway service over Jamaica Bay and purchased the line in 1955. After an extensive rebuild of all trestles and converting the line for transit operations, the city began operating it as the IND Rockaway Line on June 26, 1956 to great fanfare. The lines connection with the Atlantic Branch at Woodhaven Junction, consisting of an interlocking, tunnel portal and incline that rose to meet the elevated Rockaway Branch, was closed and removed in October of 1955. This connection had primarily been used to allow trains from Brooklyn to reach Aqueduct Racetrack. The remains of the interlocking can still be seen in the Atlantic Avenue tunnel, while the incline is now owned by Logan School Bus Company which park their busses along the right of way.
LIRR service of the remaining portion of the Rockaway Beach Branch between Rego Park and Ozone Park was greatly reduced and truncated to a single-track operations between the two endpoints starting in 1956. Patronage sharply declined over the next few years, with service consisting of a single train in each direction between New York Penn Station and Ozone Park. No connection with the IND Rockaway Line was made in Ozone Park, further hurting any potential ridership growth. Realizing the current truncated operation was served better and more frequently by the transit authority—coupled with the fact it was the only LIRR line to not serve Long Island proper—service quietly ceased on June 8, 1962. Copper wire is long gone but some ceramic insulators survive== Legacy== The LIRR never filed to abandon the isolated section of double trackage between Rego Park and Ozone Park, due to the intended connection to the IND Queens Boulevard Line subway. As of 2010, the line remains officially out of service and it known by locals as "the forgotten spur." As such, no effort has been made to remove and dismantle any railway hardware. Rails, wooden ties, electrical towers and even de-electrified third rails still adorn most of the route, and is a regular haunt for hikers, homeless, and such. The right-of-way can be easily be seen, especially along the abandoned elevated embankment in Woodhaven and Ozone Park. It is currently owned by the City of New York.
Since service ended in 1962, there has been repeated talks of restoring the line to active passenger service. In 2001, the MTA suggested routing the proposed AirTrain JFK airport service over the line. The route was to begin at Penn Station, following the route of the original Rockaway Beach Branch, through Rego Park, Ozone Park, and ultimately branching off at the current Howard Beach-JFK subway station served by the IND Rockaway Line.
The routing was met with approval from advocacy groups including the Rockaway-based Committee for Better Transit, Inc. and the Rockaway Transit Coalition. However, local and political opposition from Forest Hills, Kew Gardens, Richmond Hill and Glendale hurt the prospects of restored service, as residents along the line complained that noise levels would increase and neighborhoods would be aesthetically marred. In addition, the MTA cited high operational and construction costs as detriments.
In 2005, residents began suggesting a conversion of the line to either a rail trail or, preferably, a rails with trails. It has been argued that restoration is needed to enable redevelopment of the Rockaways, "a potentially very attractive area that has long suffered from slow transit service. Higher property values and influxes of people attracted by fast service to Midtown could revitalize en-route neighborhoods like Richmond Hill."
|Rego Park||May 1928||June 8, 1962|
|Parkside||September 15, 1927||June 8, 1962|
|Brooklyn Manor||January 9, 1911||June 8, 1962|
|Woodhaven Junction||by 1893||June 8, 1962|
|Ozone Park||by 1883||June 8, 1962|
|Aqueduct||1883||October 3, 1955|
|by 1905||June 27, 1955|
|Hamilton Beach||October 16, 1919||June 27, 1955|
|Goose Creek||1888||September 1935|
|The Raunt||1888||May 23, 1950|
|Broad Channel||1900||May 23, 1950|
|Beach Channel||May 31, 1905|
|August 26, 1880||1941|
|Holland||August 26, 1880||October 3, 1955|
|April 1903||October 3, 1955|
|Seaside||August 26, 1880||October 3, 1955|
|Rockaway Park||August 26, 1880||October 3, 1955|