Arverne & Canarsie Railway
The Rockaway Line is
certainly not what most
people think of when the New York City Subway is mentioned. A former
steam railway dating to the 1890’s, this neck of the NYC
Subway’s A Route serves, Broad Channel
which could pass for a New England fishing village, and gives amazing
views of the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge which it crosses on its way to
the Rockaway Peninsula, where the elevated stretch between Mott Avenue
and Rockaway Park provides riders with a panoramic view of the Atlantic
As a child I could see the and hear the line from the rear window
of my old home in Arverne, and I would always stop whatever I was doing
to see the trains go by. The Rockaway Line was our way in and out of
Manhattan and we used it frequently. I remember looking out at the
World Trade Center as we were crossing the trestle over Jamaica Bay and
thinking how amazing it was that I could look out at the twin towers on
horizon and then be almost right underneath them when the train reached
Chamber’s Street a short while later.
I would listen to stories from my great aunt who would tell me of when
the line was operated by the Long Island Rail Road prior to the 50's,
was lucky enough to live downstairs from a cousin who worked as a
motorman on the Subway and would tell me about the famous
trains that were stationed at Rockaway Park in the very early
1990’s that I was too young to remember.
The Rockaway Line was my railway growing up, I miss being able to ride
it now that I’ve moved away, but I still enjoy
visiting the area and seeing the trains go by.
Train enters Gaston Avenue Station as seen from the rear
window of my old home in Arverne.
As I learned more about the history of the Rockaways in recent years I
was able to put together an idea of what the Rockaways were like when
the community and its railroad were young and what it might have
looked like today had history gone a bit differently.
In the last year or two I’ve had a few dreams about the
in which the subway line took different routes, the streetcars were
still around, neighborhoods were arranged differently, and other
Most recently I dreamed up a universe where trains were operated by a
company called the Arverne and Canarsie Railway, which combined with
all the previous dreams made for a fairly complete alternate history
that I thought deserved to be shared, so here it is.
The Arverne and Canarsie Railway follows the A Line of our
world’s New York City Subway from the Rockaway Peninsula
Jamaica Bay and then turns west after Aqueduct Racetrack on to Rockaway
Boulevard. Where as the A Line in our world dives underground at Grant
Avenue and becomes a proper subway, the route on the ACR continues
westbound as an elevated railway, shadowing the A Line until curving
south onto Atlantic Avenue and following the Canarsie Line (the L line
on the NYC Subway) which is elevated up until Rockaway Parkway, where
it continues at grade level to the terminus at Canarsie Pier.
(click image to enlarge)
I knew very little about the Canarsie Line until doing research in
preparation for this feature, and it turns out that the Canarsie Line,
like the Rockaway Line, was formerly a steam railroad, which is unusual
as New York’s subway lines were electrified from the very
and generally have no history of steam traction.
The world of the Arverne and Canarsie Railway is slightly less
urbanized and a bit more forest-like than what we see on the A and L
subway lines of our world. The stations on the ACR are kept as green
and garden-like as possible, not unlike this old scene from the NYC
Subway’s Franklin Avenue Shuttle.
The Arverne & Canarsie Railway opened in 1895 as a steam
operated surface and elevated line.
By 1910 the line was electrified with overhead trolley wire to allow
access to electric street railways, mainly the Ocean Electric Railway
of the Rockaway Peninsula. The ACR itself would also use trolley cars
on its right of way.
1920 saw the arrival of steeplecab electric locomotives that became the
preferred locomotives for pulling passenger trains.
All non-streetcar services were locomotive hauled until the 1940
arrival of multiple-unit trains similar to the Bluebird Compartment
Subway Cars used by the BMT.
The remaining steam locomotives were withdrawn from regular service in
1950, and the compartment
cars then became the preferred stock for passenger service, with the
steeplecab locomotives generally being used for maintenance and freight
duties, hauling revenue trains only when necessary, or for special trips.
Trains nearly identical to the R-36 Subway cars were purchased in 1968.
The Ocean Electric Railway adopted PCC trolley cars in the
which operate on the ACR’s right of way on the Rockaway
and to Howard Beach. The ACR itself also owns several PCC cars
for use near Canarsie Pier.
In its steam days the Arverne and Canarsie operated ten
identical steam locomotives similar to this example.
Like all Arverne and Canarsie rolling stock these engines carried a
Steam was retired from regular service in 1950, though two steam
locomotives were preserved and are
used on special excursion trains that run on certian weekends
in the spring and summer.
They also come in handy for saving stranded trains in the case of power
These are electric steeplecab locomotives of similar shape and color to
They were used to haul unpowered passenger stock when introduced in
continued to do so until motorized compartment cars became
available in 1940. These locomotives are still used for works and
maintenance trains, and sometimes are called upon to haul failed
Special excursion trains pulled by these locomotives also run on
certain weekends in the spring and summer.
A real-life fan excursion with a similar locomotive and train
at Far Rockaway station produced this
, not unlike one that might be seen on the Arverne and
A diverse selection of streetcars from numerous street railways have
run on Arverne and Canarsie metals, but today the ACR shares
its right of way only with the Ocean Electric Railway, which
runs services up and down the Rockaway Peninsula and through to Howard
Beach with PCC trolley cars in addition to its street
operations in the Peninsula area.
The ACR itself also owns several PCC cars which are used between at
Canarsie Pier to shuttle people arriving by boat to their
“big train” waiting at Rockaway Park.
The Ocean Electric’s PCC cars are painted white with a green
stripe below the windows, while the Arverne and Canarsie’s
trolleys are the traditional all-over green.
MOTORIZED COMPARTMENT CARS
Introduced in 1940, these are similar to the Bluebird Compartment Cars
by the BMT, as can be seen here
though of course
painted in ACR green. The Compartment Cars were designed to utilize
similar features to PCC trolley cars, and like all Arverne and Canarsie
electric stock these were powered via overhead trolley wire rather than
The arrival of the Compartment Cars brought about the end of locomotive
hauled revenue trains on the ACR.
R-36 TYPE CARS
Built in 1968, these are the newest trains on the Arverne &
Canarsie Railway. They are near carbon copies of the R-36 World's Fair Cars
the New York City Subway, but feature
trolley poles for electrification and are painted green, like this
The R-36 type cars along with the Compartment Cars make up the current
revenue fleet of the Arverne and Canarsie Railway.
VINTAGE PASSENGER COACHES
Two trains of seven unpowered Arverne and Canarsie coaches have been
preserved for use on
locomotive hauled excursion trains, and can be pulled by steam or
electric. When pulled by one of the surviving steam locomotives, they
form the oldest complete train in the United States. The coaches are
similar to old elevated cars like
The day after I dreamed up the Arverne & Canarsie Railway I was
given an unexpected excuse to pay the area a visit, and was able to get
some photographs of the Arverne & Canarsie's real world
A stretch of the former Long Island Rail Road line the between Edgemere
and Frank Avenue
stations on the Rockaway Peninsula as we head west toward my
neighborhood of Arverne. In real life this line was run by the Long
Island Rail Road until the 1950's when it was abandoned by the LIRR and
absorbed into the IND Subway system. These stations still carry their
old names on the signs, but are now officially refered to by their
street number names, though on the Arverne & Canarsie Railway
old names reign supreme.
Here is the Beach 67th Street
in Arverne, always known to me by its old name of Gaston Avenue.
This was my station growing up, and it marked the beginning and end of
every outing into Brooklyn and Manhattan.
My interest in this line's history probably began when I asked my
mother where Gaston Avenue was located, and Mom couldn't give me an
answer since Gaston Avenue no longer exists, complicated by the fact
that the station was relocated twice in its history.
This station dates back to 1888 and was one of the stations along this
line that connected with the Ocean Electric Railway.
A Trains leaving from Gaston swoop north toward Jamaica
and Broad Channel
Here is a photo of some nice old Brooklyn
cars running just beyond this station down
Hammel's Wye on a fan excursion.
This is the station at Beach 105th Street
, also known as
Seaside. I've never used this station before in my life. According to
Wikiepdia this is the second least patronized station in the entire NYC
Subway system. Both Gaston and Seaside were undergoing rennovations
when I was there in late July of 2009. I took video of a train leaving
the station which can be seen HERE
A photograph of Jamaica Bay from a moving train in 2000.
This is not from the Rockaways, it was actually from the Flushing Line
in 2000 or 2001.
These are the R-36 Subway Cars
in their famous
"redbird" livery, the last trains on the system to wear coats of paint.
They were retired in 2003.
The redbirds were actually stationed at Rockaway Park Yard in the late
80's and early 90's just as they would have been on the Arverne
& Canarsie, but I never had a chance to see or ride on them
then since they didn't run through to Gaston.
This 1991 photograph
taken at Rockaway Park could be a scene straight from the Arverne
& Canarsie Railway if the cars were to have been painted green
example, also taken at Rockaway Park.
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those who have made their
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