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N6 Limited

LIRR mulls options on Port Washington line

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MTA leaders are considering restoring some service that was cut on the Long Island Rail Road's Port Washington branch after a 2011 ridership drop of more than 411,000 on that line -- a dramatic decline linked to the reduction of off-peak trains.

Scheduling more trains on the line is "being evaluated on the executive level," MTA chairman Joseph Lhota said last week. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is looking at whether there is a "financially viable way" to restore the cuts while at the same time increasing revenue, he said. He did not say when a decision will be made.

In December, Lhota opposed a plan by a few MTA board members to set aside $20 million for restoration of service that was cut in September 2010 as part of a larger agency initiative to fill a $900-million budget gap.

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The changes made then to Port Washington service halved the number of off-peak trains, from every half-hour to every hour. Service reductions on the LIRR, which included cuts on the West Hempstead and Greenport branches, were aimed at saving $3.8 million annually.

Ira Greenberg, chairman of the MTA's Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee, said restoring service on the Port Washington branch could nearly "pay for itself" because of the number of lost riders that could be lured back. In 2009, the Port Washington line recovered 67 percent of its operating costs in fares -- more than any of the LIRR's 11 branches.

It is the only LIRR branch that riders can take into Penn Station without going through the congested Jamaica interchange, making it less prone to service disruptions.

A new LIRR ridership report revealed that the Port Washington Branch lost 3.5 percent of its riders from 2010 to 2011. It dropped from 11,805,789 riders in 2010 to 11,394,238 last year.

"When we put those service reductions in there, there was an expectation that customers would either migrate to the trains before the hour or after the hour," LIRR president Helena Williams said at a meeting last week of the MTA commuter railroad committee. "We're trying to determine whether that estimate was correct."

The railroad's statistics also show that the 567,556 riders lost on the Port Washington, West Hempstead and Greenport lines accounted for nearly all of the 572,000 customers the railroad lost in 2011. Those three lines saw the deepest service cuts in 2010.

Total LIRR ridership was down 0.5 percent in 2011, the year that the LIRR was overtaken by Metro-North Railroad as the busiest commuter railway in the nation.

Greenberg, who said he was not surprised at the steep ridership drop on the Port Washington branch, noted the probable result of railroad riders turning to their cars for commuting to work. "With infrequent service, especially on that line . . . people get in their cars, because you lose time," he said.

Port Washington North Village Mayor Robert Weitzner echoed that theory. Weitzner said that while most regular commuters in his village probably were unaffected by the 2010 cuts, the LIRR became far less viable for more discretionary trips, such as a weekend venture into Manhattan.

"On a weekend, I would tell you that I'd think twice about taking a train instead of a car, knowing that I could be stuck for an hour," said Weitzner, who noted that many people move into his village, and surrounding communities, because of its proximity to the Port Washington rail line.

"The convenience of the train is eliminated if you miss that one train and you're stuck for an hour," he said. "You're thinking, 'I'd be home by now.' "

Mirta Martinez of College Point, Queens, had just that thought on Thursday afternoon, when she missed a westbound train at the Great Neck station by minutes because of a bus that arrived late.

Martinez, 44, who works as a housekeeper in Great Neck, grew even more anxious inside the station's waiting room when her 8-year-old daughter called her from school, saying she felt sick and wanted to go home.

"It's so annoying," said Martinez, who longs for the days of never having to wait more than 30 minutes for a train home. "It would be so much easier if they just put the train back."

MTA board member Mitchell Pally, who has led the push to restore some of the service, said he has "no doubt that, at some point, something will happen."

Although restoring cuts on one LIRR line could lead to resentment from riders on other lines, Pally said Port Washington should be a top priority because "it may have the most impact on the most number of people."

Even without any service restorations, LIRR ridership has increased steadily since September -- what Williams said is a sign of Long Island's ongoing recovery from the recession.

LIRR Commuter Council Chairman Mark Epstein said that rather than "create barriers" for new commuters who are willing to take a train, the LIRR should offer them as many trains as possible.

"You can't increase ridership by cutting service," Epstein said.

The ridership figures released last week showed the West Hempstead branch, which had all its weekend trains axed, saw a 17.8 percent drop in ridership last year, or about 150,000 lost customers. Ridership on the Greenport line, which saw the elimination of weekend service except during the summer months, declined 11.4 percent, by about 5,500 riders, in 2011.



Less service, fewer riders



2010 LIRR ridership:81,555,393

2011 LIRR ridership:80,983,003

Riders lost:572,390


The cut lines:

Port Washington

Service reduction:Off-peak service reduced from half-hourly to hourly.

2010 ridership:11,805,789

2011 ridership:11,394,238

Riders lost:411,551


West Hempstead

Service reduction:Weekend service eliminated.

2010 ridership:847,110

2011 ridership:696,621

Riders lost:150,489



Service reduction: Weekend service eliminated except for summer months.

2010 ridership:48,463

2011 ridership:42,947

Riders lost:5,516


Total riders lost on three lines:567,556

Service reductions took effect in Sept. 2010

Source: LIRR

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heres to hoping they restore the service that was cut in 2010 on the LIRR.




Agreed. At least restore full day Saturday and Weekday Midday 30 minute headways on the Pt Wash line. Not to mention overnight service on the Hempstead-Atlantic Ave(Brooklyn)as well.

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way too many riders were hurt by those reductions they have to restore the port washington lost service and atlantic term service especially since barclays center is just about finished so BROOKLYN RIDERSHIP WILL SKYROCKET!!!!

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I am happy Port Wash riders drop off stick it to MTA where it hurts. I am honestly grinning now.


They lost me as a regular monthly rider of the Port Wash line since the service change. I have been taking the NICE/LIB to work which isn't too bad on the commute at all plus I save more than 50% of my monthly fares. I drive more on weekends due to the awful every hour train nonsense on weekends if I need to go to manhattan. Yes I am awful for contributing to more pollution & congestion on the roads on weekends. Thank you MTA for this


After NICE took over for MTA for the bus so far in 2012, they seem to be doing a decent job. Hey, I am just being really honest with my assessement here. Perhaps MTA flat out isn't cut out to run the LIRR either. Its just a real possibility. Fold the dysfunctional business & start over again.

Edited by sirtiger

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I'll admit it I'm spoiled and can't be bothered to navigate when the 7 is out on the weekends so I use the LIRR instead. I'm surprised by how many people are waiting for the train at Flushing. I always figured with the 7 right there why would anyone want to use the LIRR since it's more money. I figured wrong lol.

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