Governor Kathy Hochul and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority released a first analysis of the recently-revived project to run mass transit along freight rail lines in Brooklyn and Queens known as the Interborough Express.
The governor promoted her signature infrastructure initiative during a Thursday, Jan. 20, press conference at the Brooklyn Army Terminal near the southern end of the underused infrastructure she hopes to upcycle to passenger transport.
“Now we have an opportunity — a once-in-a-generation opportunity — to make the investments that should have been made all alone,” Hochul said. “But also to just reimagine some of the infrastructure that has been lying fallow for so many years that no one saw the possibilities of.”
The IBX will run from the Bay Ridge-Sunset Park waterfront through central and eastern Brooklyn, and up to Jackson Heights, Queens, along 14 miles of freight rail right of way.
The scheme would connect 17 subway lines on its route and serve between 74,000-88,000 riders every weekday for a roughly 40 minute journey end-to-end, according to the report.
Passenger rail first rolled out on these tracks in 1876 as part of the New York and Manhattan Beach Railway, but the line was converted to freight operations in 1924 and currently carries no more than three freight trips per day.
The MTA’s Long Island Rail Road owns 11 miles of track operated by the New York and Atlantic Railway, while three miles at the northern end in Queens are owned by Florida-based freight company CSX.
AECOM looked at three modes of transport for the new route and how they would fit in with the current industrial trains: A regular rail line, light rail, and bus rapid transit.
A trolley or a bus would need to be physically separated from the existing trail lines, according to Federal Railroad Administration regulations, while a heavy passenger rail would not have to do that.
That takes up more space so those two modes would have to run above the freight track or on existing streets for some tighter portions of the line.
A passenger train would largely run along the western side of the tracks, but make a quick switch over to the east around East New York, before going back.
Any project would also have to account for the Buckeye Pipeline, which carries jet fuel to LaGuardia and JFK airports and runs along the line, and occupies one of four tubes of the route’s East New York Tunnel.
Hochul first announced the project in her State of the State address on Jan. 5, but her scheme chopped off a section extending further to the Bronx that was part of the so-called Triboro originally proposed by the non-profit Regional Plan Association in the 1990s.
The new report claims that there would not be enough space on the Hell Gate Line to carry the new service every 5-15 minutes in addition to Amtrak, freight, and the planned Metro-North service there.
To accommodate more trains, the MTA would have to build costly new tracks and bridges.
The study’s findings will feed into the MTA’s upcoming environmental review of the project, which could unlock federal funding, the agency’s chairperson and chief executive officer Janno Lieber told reporters.
The transit guru was hesitant to give a specific cost for the IBX, but said it would be in the “single-digit billions,” or below $10 billion.
Lieber said the environmental review could put the IBX on pace to become part of the MTA’s next five-year capital plan starting in 2025, and construction would take three to five years.
A separate study by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is looking at building a freight tunnel across the harbor to New Jersey, which would increase the daily freight traffic to up to 21 trains by 2035.
The AECOM study has accounted for the IBX to run alongside such increased freight traffic, Lieber said.