Ridership on Long Island Rail Road peak trains increased more in July than in any month in three years, LIRR officials said last week.
The 3,969,954 people who rode the railroad during peak hours in July marked a 3.7 percent increase over July of last year, officials said.
The increase represented the largest jump in so-called "commutation" ridership in at least 3 1/2 years, LIRR chief financial officer Mark Young said.
Total LIRR ridership in July was 7,289,684 -- up 1.4 percent versus the same month last year. It was the 11th consecutive month of ridership gains after a nearly three-year decline that began during the economic collapse in 2008.
"We're very pleased with the results," said Young, who declined to speculate on whether the LIRR was on pace to reclaim the title of the nation's busiest commuter railroad, which it lost to Metro-North Railroad last year.
"We're very cautious for financial reasons to not over-project ridership. But the signs are good," Young said.
While the LIRR saw a big surge in peak riders in July, it also saw a small drop in off-peak and weekend riders for the first time in nearly a year.
Non-commutation ridership was down 1.2 percent. Young said the LIRR was "curious" about the reason for the decline.
Through July, the LIRR has carried 48,462,995 riders in 2012, an increase of 2.8 percent compared with the first seven months of 2011.
The boost translates into more money for the LIRR, which collected $340.7 million in fares through July, compared with $327.9 million during the same period last year.
Mark Epstein, chairman of the LIRR Commuter Council, said he was "happy" to see the continuing positive trend for railroad service and cautioned the Metropolitan Transportation Authority against driving some new and returning commuters away by raising fares.
The MTA plans to increase fares for all its agencies, including the LIRR, by 7.5 percent next year. Epstein said his council is gearing up for public hearings to be held in November regarding the hike -- the third increase in five years.
"It looks like commuters are coming back to the commuter line," Epstein said. "If the numbers are going up, let's not discourage that."