NYC’s Interborough Express steams ahead after feasibility study

Out Of The Gates

NYC’s Interborough Express steams ahead after feasibility study

A stretch of the Bay Ridge Branch adjacent to the Fort Hamilton Parkway subway station in Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn. (Marc A. Hermann/MTA/Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA)’s year-long study examining the feasibility of a proposed Brooklyn-to-Queens rail line dubbed the Interborough Express (IBX) has wrapped up and the results were shared by New York Governor Kathy Hochul at a January 20 press conference. The final result promises a mass transit experience that’s considerably shorter and less headache-inducing than the current option: taking a circuitous route through Manhattan to reach Brooklyn from Queens or vice versa. (Or taking the mostly-in-Brooklyn G train, which only serves two stations in Queens, both in Long Island City).

Stretching 14 miles along an existing freight rail line owned by Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) known as the Bay Ridge Branch, the “transformative transit project” would provide a direct link to Bay Ridge, a waterfront neighborhood in southwestern Brooklyn, to Jackson Heights in northwestern Queens. As the Governor’s Office made clear in announcing the conclusion of the feasibility study, it is “indeed physically feasible” to accommodate passenger traffic—via bus rapid transit, light rail, or traditional heavy rail like the rest of the New York City Subway system—alongside (currently sparse) freight rail traffic on the Bay Ridge Branch. What’s more, the study found that the demand for such a service is “significant” and that the IBX could potentially serve up to 800,000 weekday riders. End-to-end, the entire trip would take an estimated 40 minutes. Per the study, the current freight corridor, which also served passenger rail from 1876 until 1924, only accommodates on average one round-trip train per day.

In total, the IBX, which was first teased during Hochul’s 2022 State of the State address earlier this month, would connect to 17 of New York City’s 22 subway lines (2, 3, 5, 7, A, B, C, D, E, F, J, L, M, N, Q, R, and Z) and the LIRR while shaving off 30 minutes in travel time each way between the two boroughs depending on the route. In addition to Bay Ridge and Jackson Heights, the new transit corridor would serve a socioeconomically diverse patchwork of neighborhoods that, despite enjoying some geographic proximity, have long been disconnected. They include the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Sunset Park, Borough Park, Kensington, Midwood, Flatbush, Flatlands, New Lots, Brownsville, East New York, and Bushwick along with Ridgewood, Middle Village, Maspeth, and Elmhurst in Queens.

Per the study, up to seven out of ten people benefiting from the IBX will be from communities of color and roughly one-half will come from households without access to a private car. An estimated one-third of New Yorkers served by the new transit line will be living in households at or below 150 percent of the Federal Poverty Line.

“Infrastructure is all about connection, and with the Interborough Express we can connect people to their family and friends while also improving their quality of life,” said Governor Hochul in a statement. “The Interborough Express will connect Brooklyn and Queens, not only shaving time off commutes but also making it easier to connect to subway lines across the route. With the completion of the feasibility study, we can move forward to the next phase of this project and bring us one step closer to making the Interborough Express a reality for New Yorkers.”

The “next phase” mentioned by Hochul is a major one: the launching of state and federal environmental review processes, which will entail extensive community engagement with New Yorkers living and working in the neighborhoods located along the ripe-with-potential Bay Ridge Branch as well as input from the requisite elected officials and stakeholders.

The exact number and location of stations along the IBX will be determined as part of the forthcoming environmental, planning, and engineering studies along with what exact mode of transit will be most appropriate in reviving the corridor for passenger use. Proposed fares for the IBX will be determined by the MTA Board when the proposed route comes online—the cost to ride is expected to be the same as the standard subway fare (whatever that may be down the line). As noted by the Governor’s Office, the total estimated project cost will also be determined during future environmental and design review processes.

empty train tracks in an industrial area
The Bay Ridge Branch seen at the Brooklyn Army Terminal in Sunset Park. (Marc A. Hermann/MTA/Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

New York City Mayor Eric Adams has vocalized his support for the project in its early stages, calling the Interborough Express “a creative proposal and a critical step towards our shared goal of providing greater connectivity for New Yorkers living in transit deserts as well as much-needed economic development.”

Kate Slevin, executive vice president for Regional Plan Association (RPA), also expressed enthusiasm with the completion of the initial feasibility study and Hochul’s plans to move the project forward. (The IBX builds off the RPA’s 24-mile-long Triboro plan, which was first introduced in 1996 and also extends into the Bronx along the Fremont Secondary freight rail line.)

“By completing the first direct transit connection between Brooklyn and Queens in generations, the Interborough Express is a monumental step forward in moving away from our Manhattan-centric transit system toward a more comprehensive model that will benefit all residents,” said Slevin. “Throughout public and private meetings with elected officials, community, and business organizations over the past five years, we have seen tremendous support for this project.”

In addition to its untapped potential as a major passenger transit line, the study refers to the Bay Ridge Branch as being a critical piece of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s Cross-Harbor Freight Program, a planned freight rail tunnel that would link the Bay Ridge Branch to Jersey City, New Jersey. The proposed tunnel, now undergoing a Tier II Environmental Impact Study, would prevent freight trains from making an up-to 280-mile detour to cross the Hudson River. If completed as envisioned, freight traffic along the sleepy Bay Ridge Branch could increase to up to 21 trains per day.

The full 28-page feasibility can be viewed here.