Off the Tracks: Restoring a Rail Link to JFK, or Turning It Into the Next High Line

Already looks like a park. (Friends of Queensway)

Three and a half miles of abandoned railroad tracks obscured by overgrown brush and untouched for more than 50 years continue to be the spectacle of a heated debate, one that had two groups battling it out earlier this week.

“I don’t think anyone got hit at the meeting, but there was some shouting going on,” said George Haikalis, chairperson for the Regional Rail Working Group, with a slight but perceivable hint of sarcasm.

The meeting Mr. Haikalis is referring to was hosted by the Queens City Congress on Monday and allowed two groups—Mr. Haikalis’ group and Friends of QueensWay—to voice differing viewpoints on whether to convert the disused railroad trestle into a High Line-like park or to restore its 1960s tracks.

Each side took a 45-minute slot to defend their respective side before the panel broke for comments.

Among them, the obvious benefit of having a high-speed method of transportation for Manhattan residents to quickly maneuver to JFK airport, which could shed 30 minutes from the commute.

Though Mr. Haikalis didn’t speak at the panel, his group is advocating for the reintroduction of a rail line as an efficient means of transportation from Midtown Manhattan to the JFK airport as well as the Aqueduct racino.

Still, a worry for some is the likely increase in property value and the noise of a rail system seated beside a residential area.

But while each side took dogged stance, Mr. Haikalis seems to think the issue is best resolved by granting each party a partial victory.

The stretch of land at stake is three-times as long as that of the High Line, which Mr. Haikalis believes is large enough to function as both a restored railroad and a freeway for pedestrians and bicyclists.

Even so, his group’s main priority is getting the rail line back up and running.

“It’s a railroad that’s hasn’t been used for 50 years,” he said. “But it’s very much a railroad, very much an asset.”

Off the Tracks: Restoring a Rail Link to JFK, or Turning It Into the Next High Line