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Queens, New York

The Abandoned Rockaway Beach Branch of the Long Island Railroad

A once crucial portion of the Long Island railroad still lays abandoned, waiting to be turned into an urban park. 

Quietly making its way through the overgrown backyards of a Queens suburb is an abandoned elevated railroad.

Built in 1877 and operated by the Long Island Railroad, the train line ran from affluent Rego Park down into the Rockaways, carrying merry making Queens residents to the beaches there. But a fire in 1950 started a decline in the railway that led the LIRR to close it for good in 1962. The portion of the train line south of Ozone Park to the Rockaways became part of the A train, whilst the three and a half miles above it was left to fend for themselves. 

For the past 50 years since the fire the abandoned elevated train line has gradually been reclaimed by nature. Made up of overgrown embankments, crumbling trestles, toppled telegraph poles and empty train stations, the train line is a forgotten relic only seen by homeowners looking out of their rear bedroom windows. 

Forgotten that is, until the non-profit Friends of the High Line saw the potential for a new public park on Manhattan’s own abandoned elevated railroad. And with the huge success of the west side High Line, attentions turned inevitably to doing the same for Queens. Plans started in 2014 to turn the overgrown three and a half miles of forgotten railway line into a pathway for cyclists, pedestrians, and artists, under the name “QueensWay.” 

But whether the abandoned tracks in the far reaches of Queens have cachet enough to turn the Rockaway branch into another High Line waits to be seen. For now, intrepid explorers can find their way onto it and follow the path through the elevated back streets of Queens as beach bound holiday makers did over 50 years ago.

Know Before You Go

It's a little tricky - a good place to enter a portion of the railroad is by the youth activities park on Fleet Street between Alderton Street and Thornton Place.