Long Island downtown centers such as Port Jefferson Station owe their existence to the rail line. But while it has been critical to the economy and identity of the hamlet, the railroad is also divisive and unattractive. It acts as a barrier to the stimulus the hamlet needs to be lively and have a growing economy. Rail operations in Long Island town centers must be re-evaluated, and their impact reconsidered, so that the rail line itself becomes a positive catalyst for the area.
This proposal seeks to reclaim land currently occupied by track infrastructure, creating a linear park space that allows for recreation, art, and commerce. This takes place in the rail corridor to the east of Main Street and is made possible by ending passenger rail service on the west side of Main Street. No longer limited by regular rail traffic, Main Street activity can freely expand to the south. The new rail station, marking the end of the rail line, is the centerpiece of new development and includes connections to other transit, such as ferry service. This development forms a new, denser neighborhood of mixed-use activity, while invigorating the historic Main Street area.
The new Rail Park space is then populated by a changing collection of pedestrian-friendly rail cars. The cars move on two tracks left in place, while a landscaped trailway for pedestrian and bike traffic occupies the remainder of the corridor. Platforms provide pedestrian access to the cars; trackside buildings provide utility services. Passage along the corridor ends at the former MTA storage yard, now a center where the community can interact with artists and engineers who adapt rail equipment for use and display in the Rail Park (or anywhere in the country).
The intersection of the railroad and Main Street is transformed into the true heart of Port Jefferson Station, becoming a destination for visitors and a vibrant neighborhood for residents. With the relocation of passenger service to the west of Main Street, and the redevelopment of the rail line as public space to the east, the railroad no longer divides the community, but unifies it.
With a dynamic mix of uses, the layout of new development promotes social interaction and supports increased commercial activity. The new area includes retail, office, cultural and residential uses. Flexible loft-like spaces with the ability to connect directly with the rail cars support a variety of cultural and commercial functions and events. The development replaces large areas of transit parking lots; commuters are now drawn through an active streetscape as a part of their routine.
The re-imagined rail corridor becomes a link to the adjacent urban nature of the hamlet, and provides opportunities for recreation, cultural interaction, and commercial stimulation that are unique to Port Jefferson Station. A changing array of re-engineered rail cars, accommodating a wide range of creative and compelling uses, populate this public space extending into the Downtown area. These cars create events along the generous walking and biking pathways which link to new green spaces and the surrounding neighborhoods, redefining the rail corridor as a positive asset to the nearby community.
The tracks function as a gallery for renovated rail cars, creating a new form of streetscape: Rail Park operators locate the cars for varying lengths of time at access platforms, creating events and activities that can be regularly scheduled and expected, or randomly occurring and surprising. Connection to the rest of the LIRR system is maintained through the new passenger station, allowing for a larger exchange of the renovated railcars – exporting/importing goods and ideas to the rest of Long Island or beyond.
The unsightly rail storage yard is relocated to the west of Main Street. The sidings of the former storage yard are reused as part of a new creative space where engineers and artists transform retired rail cars into pieces of art and interesting destinations, or restore historic equipment for educational use.
Part factory and part artist’s studio, this Car Barn supports activity in the Rail Park and becomes an attraction of its own. The public is welcomed to observe the activity of transforming the rail cars while a visitor’s center provides interpretive information on the process and history of the area. Modified rail cars can be seen here at all times, regardless of which cars are scheduled to be stationed at docks, platforms, or other stops on the LIRR.