Display Concepts

The Long Island Railroad History Map is presented here in two parts made up of three files:

        the first part is the map reduced to 1/3 its original size for wide area views, just large enough to read the hand written history text, and to see the route traces, but too small to read map features like station stops.

        the second part is the full size map - the same size as the original scan. The full size map is too large for Internet browsers to display; file dimensions go beyond ordinary browser design limitations. (The hand-drawn map, ink on paper, measures 52 x 15 inches and was scanned by Jamaica Blueprint Company of Queens, NY into a .TIFF file 10356 x 2939 pixels.) The original .TIFF file was converted into two .GIF files, each representing half the map with overlapping ends - which was still too large for browsers to handle. So each .GIF file is sliced into smaller parts that are invisibly stitched together by your Internet browser. Some 600 small files now make up the two parts of the full size map.

The working concept is to use the 1/3 size map for most viewing, and switch to the full size map to see small features. Each map opens into its own window. Click on the appropriate map icon in the Windows tray that runs along the bottom of your display screen to pop up the map.

Points of Interest

The most interesting feature of the map is the concomitant information it reveals, that is, the history story itself; an encapsulation of railroad building from the early days of American railroading. The popular concept is that railroads spring from one Grand Design, a heroic panorama sweeping across the landscape, like the famous image of the Transcontinental Railroad coming together. Our history map dispels the myth and shows a different picture; a slow, torturous process of accretion, small companies gathering property rights and financial resources to lay a few miles of track from town to town only to go broke and abandon the enterprise in short order, or at best, surviving long enough to get swallowed up whole by a larger, but equally troubled fish. This, high hopes with sad realities story is still alive and rolls on unabated. The Long Island Railroad, born out of a chaotic New York railroading past has emerged into an equally chaotic present day railroading gallimaufry - many think no railroads at all will survive into the near future. The LIRR seems to wallow in annual catastrophic financial failure, and the national picture is no rosier. Witness the mid-20th Century wreck of the PennCentral, and the subsequent rise of the mighty Amtrack, made up of many failing regional systems fused into one gigantic financial mess. Why does this madness continue? What keeps an industry of super-sized business failures afloat in today’s savage capitalist society? Perhaps our history map holds some clues amidst all the anfractuosity.

The Rockaway Beach Line

Let us turn to a crystal clear example of what happens to the environment in the absence of rail service, or in this case, the deracination of Queens county’s crosstown train service. Around mid-century last, the Long Island Railroad was once again in bankruptcy proceedings, and in lieu of tax debt, ceded one of its precious assets, the Rockaway Beach Line, to the City of New York. A bureaucrat thought - some moron with the intelligence of an earthworm (it’s always dangerous when people like that think) - they would save some money and deactivate the line; all the city wanted was the pristine railroad bridge across Jamaica Bay. In yet another railroad accretion, the southern portion of the Rockaway Beach Line was joined to the eastern leg of the city’s A train (yes, the famous A Train of Ellington’s song.) Shadowing the long vertical straight line that is the Rockaway Beach Line on the map, one city block to the west along its entire length, from Queens Boulevard right over Jamaica Bay into Rockaway, is a broad thoroughfare with two names: Woodhaven Boulevard which becomes Crossbay Boulevard at Howard Beach. When crosstown train service is terminated, people who use the line do not evaporate, they must still travel across the borough on a daily basis. Since Woodhaven-Crossbay is the only thoroughfare that crosses Western Queens north-to-south, it does not take a brain surgeon to figure out that people who were once on the train are one block west in private cars and busses traveling over the very same route - but now emitting trails of pollution in their wake. Over the decades, the population of the area has increased markedly, and the Woodhaven-Crossbay corridor has long since reached complete traffic saturation. Not unpredictably, the accompanying air pollution measures off the chart. This week, a local newspaper ran a story titled, “Queens Flunks 6th Straight Pollution Test” but the unwritten rubric said, politicians miserably fail the people of Queens. From the article, “High levels of air pollution are increasing the risk of premature death for nearly one million Queens residents for the sixth consecutive year, it was reported by the American Lung Association .... Based on a three-year (2001-03), state and federal governmental air analysis, Queens is experiencing a worsening of air quality since last year’s report.... Nearly 600,000 Queens residents with cardiovascular ailments and another 113,999 with diabetes are directly affected by air particle pollution.... Nearly twice as many kids living in Queens suffer from pediatric asthma then youngsters living in nearby Manhattan....” My God! When will politicians act? New York City’s new mayor, a Boston dilettante who knows as much about Queens as he does Antarctica, has sold off some Rockaway Beach Line property, and may sell even more to builders. He wants to turn Queens’ only crosstown railroad right-of-way into a bicycle path; recently, he ran a campaign to find a new name for the city to use under his administration - try CLOWN TOWN Mr. Mayor.

commentary by joseph tiraco, forest hills ny, may 2005