Conducted by engineering firm AECOM, the study concludes that mixing light rail for commuters with current freight operations is feasible. If implemented, the QNS Rail could serve 5.8 million riders annually, with an estimated weekday ridership of 21,000 people.
The capital cost of the project for passenger rail alone exceeds $1 billion, with the majority of funds going to new transit infrastructure. Other expenditures include purchasing the fleet, maintenance equipment and other facilities.
Another $1 billion in upgrades would be needed to maintain freight service, including investment in an additional track, signals and a storage and maintenance yard.
Former councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley, who championed the light rail and funded the $500,000 study when she was in office, said compared to the MTA’s Second Avenue expansion, which was just three miles long, this project is worth the cost.
“Too many of our Queens communities are transportation deserts,” Crowley said. “Our hard-working residents lack decent, local access to public transit, and then wind up spending too much time commuting on unreliable service.”
All five community boards affected by the QNS Rail have approved the concept. Borough President Melinda Katz has also come out in favor of the project, and mentioned it in her latest State of the Borough address.
The study proposes 10 stops running along the nine-mile track, anchored by stations in Long Island City and Jamaica. Along the way, the rail would stop in Maspeth, Middle Village, Glendale, Ridgewood and Richmond Hill.
Stations in Richmond Hill, the Metro Mall and 80th Street are projected to have the highest ridership of the 10 stations.
AECOM also considered possible operating hours of service. The firm proposed running the commuter rail from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m., but no overnight service.
During peak hours, which are 6 to 10 a.m. and 4 to 8 p.m., service would run every six minutes. During off-peak hours and the weekend, the rail would arrive every 15 minutes.
To run passenger service, the QNS Rail would have to meet Federal Railway Administration (FRA) regulations because freight would operate on the same or adjacent tracks. If the equipment used for the rail does not comply with regulations, the QNS Rail would not be allowed to run at the same time as freight service.
The study concluded that the best option would be to use FRA-compliant rail cars. It also recommended using diesel-powered equipment, which would produce noise and diesel emissions, but would not require electric infrastructure like a third rail.
The Lower Montauk branch ran commuter service in the 19th century, but ridership plummeted after World War II. Service ceased in 1998 and was discontinued by 2012.
Since then, the line has been leased to New York and Atlantic Railway, which provides freight service for industrial businesses into Long Island.
Despite the feasibility of bringing passenger rail, the study cites a number of challenges, most notably the price tag. One way to help pay for the high cost is using a method called value capture, which directs a portion of increased property values to pay for initial capital costs.
The rise in property values would be attributed to adding transit service, which attracts more people to an area. This financial model has been used in projects such as Hudson Yards, and has been pitched to fund the Brooklyn-Queens Connector (BQX) streetcar.
An initial analysis found that the rise in real estate value near five stations could produce $309 million in bonds, roughly 14 percent of the total projected cost. Of course, other zoning changes and higher density would be needed to support the economic growth.
Another way to help fund the project is by selling the “air rights,” or unused buildable floor area of a development. The study notes that this approach has been used to raise revenue for the MTA.
The project faces other technical challenges, such as right-of-way restrictions, overhead bridges and adjacent yard tracks. The conditions vary across the nine-mile track.
Ultimately, the study concluded that further evaluation on the engineering aspects, financing and other operational studies need to be conducted. Transportation officials previously estimated that it may take until 2025 or later to make the QNS Rail a reality.