Rail Service Proposed to LaGuardia. Again.


This was the proposed routing for the new LaGuardia AirTrain. It will not be what is built based on recent developments.
This was the proposed routing for the new LaGuardia AirTrain. It will not be what is built based on recent developments.

Talk of rail service to New York’s LaGuardia Airport has surfaced once again. This time it is New York Governor Andrew Cuomo making the suggestion and, as expected, there is plenty of buzz in the air. LaGuardia is one of only a few major US airports without a rail mass transit option in a city where there is otherwise rail service available. So, surely a proposal to get rail access to the airport is a win, right?? Unfortunately in this case the answer appears to be a no.

Hello, AirTrain LaGuardia

Cuomo is proposing an AirTrain LaGuardia be built, similar to how both JFK and Newark airports are connected to the rail networks. For LaGuardia the AirTrain would run along the Grand Central Parkway to Willets Point in Queens where it would connect to the NYC Subway’s 7 train or the Long Island Rail Road. Building it along the existing highway and through mostly industrial areas should help reduce objections from local citizens and keep costs down. It will also result in a system which is less convenient than what is available today for the majority of LaGuardia’s users. And it still doesn’t solve the issue of providing a single seat ride from Manhattan to LaGuardia.

An approximation of the LaGuardia AirTrain route being proposed by Governor Cuomo. Note that it heads away from Manhattan.
An approximation of the AirTrain LaGuardia route being proposed by Governor Cuomo. Note that it heads away from Manhattan.

For subway connections Willets Point offers access to only the 7 train. And it is sever stops when running express (morning rush hour peak only) from there to Manhattan; it is 17 stops on the local. Compare that to the current options from Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Avenue where there are five train lines to choose from, including the E train which is only 3 stops from Manhattan and already carrying airport passengers to JFK as well. Yes, it means taking a bus from the subway to the airport terminal, but that is likely a better option than what Cuomo’s AirTrain LaGuardia proposal offers.

The (relatively) new Q70 Limited bus service runs essentially non-stop between the subway and airport terminals. The ride is generally about 10 minutes and avoids the surface streets of Queens. Yes, it must contend with traffic but even in those situations the total ride time remains quite reasonable. And saving 5 minutes by riding an AirTrain versus a bus doesn’t do much good for all the passengers who must add a transfer to the train portion of their trip or ride 5-10 minutes further on the subway to get to the AirTrain connection.

Willets Point really is much further away and has only one train line compared to Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Avenue.
Willets Point really is much further away and has only one train line compared to Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Avenue.

Willits Point offers up connections to the Long Island Rail Road in addition to just the NYC Subway system. And that’s great until one realizes that the LIRR spur being connected is on the Port Washington Line of the LIRR which serves only a tiny fraction of Long Island. And if the goal is faster access into Manhattan and Penn Station then the Willets Point station also fails compared to today’s options with much lower frequencies and, even if you catch the right train timing, almost no time savings over the Subway options. And the Q70 does connect to Woodside, a LIRR station with access to all of the lines, not just the Port Washington Line.

Switching between a bus and a train is far from ideal. But the AirTrain proposal replaces that with a switch from a train to a train. And this particular AirTrain proposal involves a less convenient transfer point which will make the ride more difficult for the very passengers it claims to be helping, those who want better mass transit at LaGuardia. The political will to establish single-seat service from the airport to Manhattan likely does not exists. After 15 years living here I’ve mostly resigned myself to that. But building a new, half billion dollar system which makes connections worse for travelers seems to be the ultimate boondoggle. It is a plan which should be killed quickly and completely.

Sorry, Mr. Cuomo: Time to go back to the drawing board on this one.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and .

11 Comments

  1. I’ve lived in NYC for 14.5 years (15 this coming summer!) Of all the airports, I love LGA since it’s the only aiport I can use my unlimited MTA ticket to so I don’t have to spend extra $$$ (JFK airtrain costs $5 and EWR is… well, in another state!) 😉

  2. I totally agree with you, Seth. LGA is my airport of choice. When traveling from home, I either go the M60 bus route from 125th Street, or I spring for a taxi (which only costs about $30 from the Upper East Side). When traveling from work, I go the Q70 route – which is fabulous. Unless the Airtrain could make the commute so much faster or easier or it could provide direct transportation to JFK, I don’t really see the use for it.

  3. I’d love to see them extend NQ service from Ditmars Blvd directly to the terminals, or have an AirTrain run from Astoria Blvd down the Grand Central Parkway right of way.

    1. Those are two reasonable options as well. There have been many, many ideas floated for rail service to LGA over the years. Cuomo’s proposal is, arguably, the worst one ever. It is that bad.

  4. I’m with Ted S. My LGA routine has always been N/Q to Astoria and either the bus or car from there. It’d be great to have an extension or something to the terminals from there.

  5. Agree with Seth and the posters above – it’s a dumb idea and bad use of resources. If one insists on going via the highway rights of way – then there’s an argument for a route from LGA to Jamaica Station to connect with the LIRR (main lines) to Penn Station and as a bonus a 2 seat ride to JFK from LGA. That would be the next least bad idea.

    Ted and Jake are right – extending from the N train at Astoria Blvd is the most logical and prompt way to move folks into Manhattan via rail (if unfortunately a 2 seat ride).

  6. Extending the N/Q is a great theory but the practical nature of the routing makes it nearly impossible. There is not room along the GCP at the end of Runway 4 to squeeze it in under the flight path. That means heading a bit south and using 94th Street and 23rd Avenue as the path. And I’m betting against that plan ever moving forward thanks to the local residents and NIMBYism.

    Not that I blame them for objecting to the subway running outside their front door, but that’s likely going to kill that option pretty quick.

  7. Sure would be nicer if the N/Q could be extended from Astoria to LGA. It’s not quite as good as E/F, but it could possibly be a single seat to the airport

  8. When I moved to NYC 18 yrs ago my first apt was off the N/Q Ditmars stop. I still remember virtually every store window with its NO TRAIN TO THE PLANE placards. There’s entrenched NIMBYism in that corner of the City. It’s a political as well as as practical impossibility to extend the N/Q to LGA.

    As for Cuomo’s new plan, that’s not industrial areas he’s proposing to run the AirTrain through. It’s through a Park. That’s all Flushing Meadows land, including a waterfront esplanade, a marina and a banquet hall. (Of course, the city and state have never met a proposal they didn’t like when it comes to giving away bits of that park to private interests, so who knows.)

    Like all other Cuomo schemes, it’s a great idea, except for all the ways in which it completely sucks.

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