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Op-Ed: A New AirTrain Solution for LaGuardia and Queens

Artist Conception of New Amtrak/Metro-North Astoria Exchange Station above the current Astoria – Ditmars Blvd. Station (AmeriStarRail)

Apr. 25, 2022 Op-Ed By Scott R. Spencer, Chief Operating Officer for AmeriStarRail

LaGuardia Airport was opened for business before World War II and yet 22 years into the 21st Century it remains the only major airport in the Northeast without a rail transit line to provide fast, efficient, traffic-free access for airport workers and airline passengers.

For the last 30 years, various proposals have been made to build a rail transit link to LaGuardia but most have not been sensitive to the concerns of the neighborhood residents in Queens who bear the brunt of the noise and pollution of the traffic congestion and flights to the airport.

Governor Kathy Hochul’s recent decision to look for new alternatives has created a fresh opportunity to develop innovative rail transit solutions that best serve both Queens residents and LaGuardia Airport.

AmeriStarRail sent a letter to Governor Hochul early this year proposing an innovative new AirTrain LaGuardia solution that is also designed to bring a number of neighborhood benefits for Queens residents and businesses.

AmeriStarRail (ASR) is developing a private sector initiative to improve Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor with expanded high speed, higher frequency, high performance service as detailed on our website www.AmeriStarRail.com.

Improving Northeast Corridor connections to airports in the Northeast is an important strategy to growing Amtrak ridership. For this reason, AmeriStarRail has been studying solutions to bring rail transit access to LaGuardia Airport (LGA).

We have proposed an innovative solution to extend rail service to LaGuardia Airport and dramatically increase the number of transit trips to LGA and JFK for airport workers and air passengers from Manhattan and the New York region.

AmeriStarRail’s AirTrain LGA/JFK system proposal can start to be implemented immediately and completed in three phases:

Phase 1 – AirTrain LaGuardia Express Trains from Manhattan: 

Operating within the available track capacity of the N route, dedicated AirTrain LaGuardia trains can provide express service from City Hall to Astoria – Ditmars Blvd. From there, AirTrain Shuttle Buses can provide nonstop service to each LaGuardia Terminal. Phase 1 uses existing trains, tracks, stations and buses and will provide new express service to Astoria.

(Phase One)

Phase 2 – Build (i) AirTrain LaGuardia from the N/W Astoria – Ditmars Blvd. station to LGA/East Elmhurst, (ii) a new neighborhood station (Louis Armstrong – East Elmhurst), (iii) a new Amtrak/Metro-North station (New York Astoria Exchange Station) overhead of the new Astoria AirTrain station at Astoria – Ditmars Blvd. on the Hell Gate Bridge approach and (iv) the AirTrain SkyTrail linear park:

The new AirTrain LaGuardia, using the same train technology as AirTrain JFK, will run on newly built elevated tracks from the current end of the N/W tracks at Ditmars Blvd. above 31st Street and 19th Avenue in Queens to serve all LGA terminals and a new neighborhood station: Louis Armstrong – East Elmhurst at Ditmars Blvd. and Astoria Blvd.

In addition, the existing NYC Subway station at Astoria – Ditmars Blvd. would be rebuilt into a new station complex, Astoria Exchange Station, (the first new intercity railroad station in New York since 1913). This new station will serve NYC Subway trains, all Amtrak Northeast Corridor trains and Metro-North Penn Station Access trains to provide rail access to AirTrain LaGuardia from Southern Connecticut, Westchester County and the Bronx and a nonstop connection to Penn Station. Residents of Queens will benefit from service at the new Amtrak/Metro-North and AirTrain stations and the construction of the AirTrain SkyTrail linear park above the AirTrain tracks. Elevators will provide trail access for hikers, runners, bikes, strollers and wheelchairs.

(Phase Two)

Phase 3 – Extend AirTrain LaGuardia over the Van Wyck Expressway to connect with the existing AirTrain JFK at Jamaica: 

The AirTrain connection at the new Astoria Exchange Station, will provide Amtrak/Metro-North passengers with rail service directly to JFK Airport. All Long Island Rail Road passengers will also have rail service to LaGuardia. The New York region will also have rail service to Citi Field and Mets games. Queens neighborhoods along the route will have transit benefits from three new AirTrain stations to be built in Phase 3 at Mets – Willets Point, Jewel Avenue and Briarwood. The entire community will also be able to enjoy the recreational benefits of the extension of the AirTrain SkyTrail to Jamaica built above the AirTrain tracks which will create an elevated linear park over 10 miles long above traffic and street intersections.

(Phase Three)

AmeriStarRail has devised our AirTrain LGA/JFK network in phases as a system solution to provide world-class rail transit access for the New York region to the world-class airports of LaGuardia and JFK International. The costs and completion dates of each phase are subject to design and engineering evaluation.

The AmeriStarRail AirTrain LGA/JFK solution will significantly reduce car trips to and from LaGuardia and JFK airports, reduce traffic congestion across Queens, provide a major new rail transit link connecting Queens neighborhoods to each other, the airports and Amtrak/Metro-North/LIRR. It will also create one of the most remarkable urban linear parks in the World: the 10 mile long AirTrain SkyTrail above the traffic and street intersections of Queens. We understand that neighborhood participation and support is key to the success of this proposal.

To address resident concerns and maximize benefits for neighborhoods along the route, ASR, James Corner Field Operations (Project Lead for Manhattan’s High Line) and Foit-Albert Associates (with offices in Queens) are available to be technical advisors for the MTA and the Port Authority in connection with the development and completion of the AmeriStarRail AirTrain LGA/JFK solution.

Our team recognizes that this AirTrain proposal contemplates a complex, forward-thinking infrastructure project that will take time to analyze and consider. If supported by neighborhood groups, the MTA and the Port Authority we look forward to working with the residents of Queens and all stakeholders to implement this project.

AmeriStarRail’s AirTrain LaGuardia/JFK System will provide Manhattan and the New York region with a bigger, bolder, better way to finally bring rail transit service to LaGuardia Airport. Trains are the most sustainable, climate friendly form of transportation. With the New AirTrain LaGuardia/JFK System, airport passengers/workers from the New York region and Queens communities along the way will have an innovative way to go easy on the environment and go by train.

Scott R. Spencer is the Chief Operating Officer for AmeriStarRail. He can be reached at [email protected]

email the author: [email protected]

4 Comments

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Dewey Seid

There used be Airport Buses from Port Authority to LGA and another to JFK but are long discontinued. Now the only way to get to airports are by long travel times with 2 transfers by subway and bus to LGA or $50 minimum by taxi and a long journey to JFK with at least 2 transfers by subway to either the Skytrain in Queens or in Brooklyn. By taxi it cost minimum $75. The other JFK is getting to Penn Station to Jamaica Station to catch the Skytrain.
Try all these options with 2 suitcases and a backpack going up and down subway stairs. This is what I as a Manhattanite face flying out of LGA or JFK. The Q10 bus to LGA is packed with most passengers unable to board as there’s no where for all the luggage.

And what do foreigners flying into JFK face not having those former airport buses to Grand Central or Port Authority. They have to take expensive taxis into Manhattan. As a first impression to NYC, it’s an unwelcoming experience. I’ve had to take lost foreigners in my taxi on congested highways to Manhattan. The first 2 commentors aren’t looking from the perspective of actual travellers but from paper shuffler
office beaucrats. There has to be an easier way to our airports and these proposal is much simpler and better that what we have for the non wealthy and foreign travellers.

I fact I now fly out of Newark Airport with either the Newark Airporter bus from Port Authority or NJ Transit train from Penn Station. Less hassle.

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Larry Penner

What about the previous NYC seven private franchised bus operators Triboro Coach who once operated the Q57 express bus. It ran from the Queensbridge NYC Transit subway station at 21st Street and 41st Avenue served by the F train to LaGuardia Airport in 1990. It was marketed as the “QT (Quick Trip) LaGuardia Express” bus route. The service was discontinued in May 1991 due to lower than expected ridership. The service ran every 20 minutes, arriving at the airport in 25 minutes, and stopping at all terminals. The route operated via 21st Street and Astoria Boulevard to LaGuardia Airport. Service was provided from 21st Street between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m. and from LaGuardia between 6:35 a.m. and 11 p.m. Restoration of this service might only require twelve buses to maintain a ten minute headway along with operating assistance to cover deficits. Farebox revenue will not meet all operating costs. The MTA and airlines would also have to market this new route along with other existing subway to airport bus connections.
This would save five or more minutes for those currently traveling to and from Manhattan to the Jackson Heights 74th Street Roosevelt Avenue subway Station who use the Q70 LaGuardia Air Link connection. The service could start within months versus waiting up to ten years for construction of a new air train, light rail, subway or commuter rail link.
(Larry Penner is a transportation advocate, historian and writer who previously worked for the Federal Transit Administration Region 2 NY Office) .

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ASensibleMan

“It ran from the Queensbridge NYC Transit subway station at 21st Street and 41st Avenue”

And that explains why nobody used it. And nobody would use it now, unless there was a constant police presence at the bus stop.

Reply
AJ

As appreciated at this plan is, it seems like a wildly out-there, pie-in-the-sky type of proposal. Unless it’s somehow funded by private money, there’s no way the city or state government, let alone the Port Authority of NY&NJ would fund this. I’m not even sure PFC’s would settle to pay for this project for at least another decade, if even considered. The Airtrain system works well for JFK airport as an inter-terminal circulator and connector to rental cars, long-term parking and the subway/LIRR, but there’s no reason it needs to link up with LGA airport, since they serve different purposes. JFK is a major international airport for the tri-state region, while LGA is more NYC’s city/business airport.

There are several flaws with this proposal which I’d like to highlight.
1) The MTA would likely not let Airtrains run on their tracks through Queens and NYC to the airport, since there would be all types of compatibility issues. I’m pretty sure the tracks that the subway uses are wildly different from the tracks that the Airtrain would use. Not to mention that the MTA is more focused/concerned with getting signaling systems up-to-date to reduce delays than they would letting Airtrains clog up more subway traffic. They might consider extending the N/W lines to the airport, but even that might take years and will depending on the complexities and cost.

2) I really don’t think there are many transfers or connections that people need to make between LGA and JFK anyway. Most domestic/international flight connections are likely to take place within JFK airport itself. Similarly, LGA would have their connections take place without needing to leave the airport, if any. Therefore, if people really really need to get from one airport to another, they would simply take a cab or make the bus/subway/Airtrain connection, which is unlikely. Linking both airports under one Airtrain system would be pointless if connections are taking places within the airport itself, at that point you might as well combine the two into one airport and call it LaGuardia-JFK.

3) Unless you’re fully committed to taking over the Northeast Corridor, I seriously doubt Amtrak would allow for construction of another station for Metro-North trains in Astoria (although admittedly this is the one part of the plan I like the most). They’re already being generous enough to let Metro-North run on their tracks to Penn Station, and letting them construct/utilize four new stations in the East Bronx. Even if this were able to be pulled off, that’s only 1 Metro-North line out of three. Already, all three stop at the Harlem-125th street station, where you can connect to the M60 SBS that goes to all airline terminals. Being able to enhance this connection and advertise it more effectively would be far less costly.

There are more that I could list, but that pretty much sums it up for me. World-class transit doesn’t have to involve ridiculously expensive and useless solutions, but often can be found in the simpler versions of subway and bus. If it’s cheap, runs on time and gets you there quickly, that’s all you can really ask for as a traveler. A $2.75 bus or subway fee will always top an $8.00 fee for an Airtrain.

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