The LIRR has been making major investments in its Brooklyn line for years, partly in anticipation of the boost in ridership that would come with the opening of the Barclays Center, just across the street from the railroad's Atlantic Terminal.
In the few weeks since the opening of the arena, which was built on former LIRR property, officials said ridership to Brooklyn on event nights is up 260 percent. With no parking at the arena, located about 30 miles from the Nassau Coliseum, the LIRR is an attractive option, railroad president Helena Williams said.
Penn Station-bound trains often carry 60 percent more passengers when the Rangers play at Madison Square Garden, officials said. Williams called that ridership jump evidence that Nassau and Suffolk county residents will be willing to take the train to see the Islanders. The team's current home, the Nassau Coliseum, is not within walking distance of a train station.
"There's some irony in the fact that it will now be easier to get to an Islanders game by Long Island Rail Road," Williams said.
But George Schutz, president of the official Islanders Booster Club, said he's not convinced fans used to driving to the game will be willing to buy a train ticket instead. Schutz, 56, has held Islander season tickets for 10 years and said he can drive to the Coliseum from his Malverne home in 15 minutes. Going to Brooklyn by train could take three times as long, he said.
"I can't see a lot of people with children who have to go to school in the morning on the Long Island Rail Road," Schutz said. "I think a lot is going to change as far as who goes to games."
The railroad plans to restore some of the overnight Brooklyn service it eliminated in 2010 to save money. Beginning in March, trains will run as late as 2 a.m. on weekdays.
The Brooklyn line is to get another major overhaul in 2019, when LIRR trains start running to and from Grand Central Terminal as part of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's East Side Access project.
Coinciding with the completion of that project will be the introduction of "Cross-Boro Scoot Service" between Jamaica station and Atlantic Terminal. The shuttle-like service will be provided using a new train platform at Jamaica.
The LIRR has made other major investments in Brooklyn -- the railroad's original New York terminal when it was created 178 years ago. The railroad spent five years and $108 million transforming its dingy old Flatbush terminal into the bright, sleek Atlantic Terminal, which opened in 2010.
The railroad also spent $164 million rehabilitating its Atlantic Avenue Viaduct. The project, completed last year, replaced a mile-and-a-half of tracks, concrete and steel.
Fred Mangione, executive vice president and chief marketing officer for the Barclays Center, acknowledged that the trip to the arena "may not be as quick as the Coliseum right in their backyard," but said officials will work with the LIRR to serve Long Island fans, as they have been for the last month.