|(Image rendering, courtesy: MTA)|
An article from the Times Ledger that was published last month reports that the LIRR may be looking into using land obtained through eminent domain to improve the Flushing Main-Street station on the Port Washington Branch. The primary goal of this project is to make the Flushing-Main Street station, which is used by nearly 2,500 people on an average weekday (many of them reverse commuters heading out into eastern Queens or Long Island), ADA accessible by installing elevators which will connect the street to the platforms.
Ultimately, the LIRR has to clear out two relatively small areas on either side of the railroad overpass to construct new wider staircases and the elevators. To date, the MTA has secured the land for one of the two new elevator shafts and they are currently working on the space for westbound side.
To obtain the room required to improve on the squished little staircase up to the Manhattan-bound platform, the MTA is looking to use the eminent domain to make the improvements possible.
Traditionally, when the railroad requires a piece of land to complete some sort of project, the LIRR and MTA try at first to get the landowner to voluntarily sell-off their property for whatever would be "fair market value" (and maybe a little more). However, when the landowner refuses to go along for the greater good (and resistance is definitely understandable in the majority of cases), public agencies can resort to using eminent domain to have the property condemned and sold over to the agency.
Eminent domain is rarely exercised without some sort of controversy, and it's a tough topic that is debated frequently enough. It's not a phenomenon that is unique to railroads, as eminent domain has been used often enough when municipalities want to construct or widen highways, roads, build a park, etc.
From one side of the box you may think that the benefit to the greater good (namely the 2,500 people who use the Flushing Main Street station daily) by allowing better access to the platform and improved accessibility. However, the owner of the land has the right to not get kicked out of the land that he purchased. Then again, chances are that the railroad was there before the landowner was even born, so perhaps they should have known better when they brought the land in the first place.
It's a debate that can go on for hours and one that I'm going to steer clear of. In my opinion, the LIRR should try whenever possible to work around obstacles like these by finding alternate locations. But since it seems in this case that there really is no alternative due to the dense nature of Flushing, I just hope that both sides can come to an agreement that is fair to both (and they do it quickly!)
Below are a couple more renderings of the station would look like after the improvement work. Like many other LIRR projects, this one is still just a bunch of renderings and designs, and we're a ways away from construction yet.
For some more information, check out that Times Ledger article.