LIRR ridership up as officials predict near-normal commute

John Metzak clears the snow and ice from John Metzak clears the snow and ice from the platforms at the Smithtown LIRR station. (Feb. 10, 2013) Photo Credit: Heather Walsh

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Ridership on the Long Island Rail Road was up more than 9 percent over an average Monday, and officials were anticipating a largely normal evening commute, as transportation in the region slowly returned to normal after the blizzard.

LIRR officials said there were no planned cancellations, but train service is still suspended in Eastern Suffolk. The railroad plans to operate all its normal afternoon trains, but advises customers to expect some delays. Buses continue to replace trains between Ronkonkoma and Greenport, and there is no service between Speonk and Montauk.

As residents in Nassau and Suffolk continue to dig out from the storm that buried some areas under as much as 33 inches of snow, Old Man Winter may be at it again.

It's "looking more and more likely" that the area could see another 3 to 6 inches of snow Wednesday evening and overnight into Thursday, starting in the afternoon as rain or a rain-snow mix, said Mike Layer, a National Weather Service meteorologist based in Upton.

The storm system's track will determine just how much rain and snow will fall, he said.

As the region recovers from the weekend storm, authorities said the westbound side of the Long Island Expressway was reopened at 4:44 a.m. and the eastbound side was reopened at 6:51 a.m. Monday. The section from Veterans Memorial Highway to the end of the expressway in Riverhead had been closed Sunday and overnight into Monday for cleanup.

For those turning to mass transit, LIRR customer service vice president Joe Calderone said Monday he was hopeful that full service would resume in time for the Tuesday morning commute.

Calderone said that employees worked throughout the weekend to restore most of the rail system, including parts that were buried under more than 2 feet of snow.

Most service was back by Monday morning, except for 10 canceled trains. And because many motorists were snowed in or could not easily access roads, ridership on the LIRR was up by 9.2 percent Monday morning as compared to a typical Monday, railroad officials said.

"People maybe took a look at some of the conditions and decided it was better to try the railroad," Calderone said. "We're happy to provide the transportation opportunity."

Expecting high demand, LIRR crews and contractors worked through the weekend to clear snow out of the busy Ronkonkoma Station parking lot, where more than 6,000 customers park their vehicles. Still, LIRR officials advised customers to consider having someone drop them off and pick them up at their stations.

Suffolk County Transit also expects to resume normal operations Tuesday. The county bus system has been suspended since Friday evening.

Amtrak expects to resume normal service between New York and Boston on Tuesday.

"Amtrak crews have been working around the clock to clear affected track of large amounts of snow, in excess of several feet in some cases," the agency said in a statement. "In addition, crews have removed downed trees and made all necessary repairs to allow for full restoration of service."

Nassau's NICE Bus system is operating all its routes, with some delays and detours caused by slippery surfaces and unplowed roads. Buses are not traveling into Farmingdale State College because the roads there are not clear, NICE officials said.

Meanwhile, the Long Island Power Authority at midday Monday was reporting that outages are at 224 as of 4:15, down from the 2,700 or so seen at midday, nearly all of them in blizzard-crippled Brookhaven Town. But Wendy Ladd, spokeswoman for National Grid, which is leading LIPA's response to the storm, said the outages were not considered storm-related.

"The restoration effort has wrapped up," she said, noting the 5,000 workers responding to the storm, including 1,000 out-of-state linemen, tree trimmers and others from as far away as Michigan and Ohio. "We're out of condition red and back into normal operating mode." She called the outages normal for a rainy day, and cautioned that freezing rain Monday night could create concerns with cars possibly hitting poles and knocking out power.

National Grid restored more than 43,000 outages over the weekend, a figure considerable lower than the 100,000 it projected could impact the system on Friday.

Nearly all of the outages from the storm over the weekend were in Suffolk County -- from Brookhaven Town to Southold Town on the North Fork, where unplowed roads hampered efforts to restore power sooner, National Grid said.

Matthew Cordaro, co-chairman of the Suffolk Legislature's LIPA Oversight Committee, called National Grid's performance during he storm "average," and said the response isn't fairly compared to that of superstorm Sandy, which saw 1 million customers lose power.

"That's comparing apples and oranges," Cordaro said, noting "National Grid was the company that worked on Sandy."

For the blizzard, "they did an average job and the wind never materialized. Because of that, we never had the outages," he said.

With Patricia Kitchen

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