By LISA W. FODERARO
Published: January 7, 2013
It has been abandoned for five decades, a railway relic that once served Queens passengers on the old Rockaway Beach branch of the Long Island Rail Road. For all those years, no one paid much notice to the ghostly tracks, long overgrown with trees and vines, as they ran silently behind tidy houses in Rego Park, dipped through ravines in Forest Park and hovered above big-box stores in Glendale.
That is, until the High Line expanded the possibilities of a public park.
Now, the three-and-a-half-mile stretch of rusty train track in central Queens is being reconceived as the “QueensWay,” a would-be linear park for walkers and bicyclists in an area desperate for more parkland and, with the potential for art installations, performances and adjacent restaurants, a draw for tourists interested in sampling the famously diverse borough.
…Last month, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a native of Queens, awarded the trust a $467,000 environmental protection grant through the state’s Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. The grant will help pay for a community planning survey and a feasibility study that will include environmental, engineering and financial assessments of the project, including consideration of the condition of the railway’s trestles, bridges and embankment
…But bringing the park to fruition will not be easy. The modest neighborhoods and light industrial areas through which the abandoned rail line passes cannot provide the tens of millions of dollars that were raised privately by Friends of the High Line, the nonprofit group managing the construction and maintenance of the elevated park on Manhattan’s West Side.
Nor is everyone on the same page about the Queens railway’s destiny; at least one elected official has called for a simultaneous study of reviving the rail line to provide better train service to the increasingly popular Rockaway beaches, damaged as they might be in the short term by Hurricane Sandy. (Mr. Benepe, who is well schooled in community opposition, imagined the potential horror of nearby homeowners at the prospect of the train line’s rumbling to life again.)
Still, the trust has already raised tens of thousands of dollars for the project, in addition to the state grant, and it has broad experience in fostering linear parks, having worked on four dozen such parks, mostly on ground level, around the country. The trust is currently the project manager of Bloomingdale Trail in Chicago, a 2.7-mile former elevated railway that is being converted to a park, in the mold of the High Line.