Optimism seen in 2013 MTA budget for LIRR

A file photo of an LIRR train arriving

A file photo of an LIRR train arriving at a station. (Credit: Kevin P Coughlin)

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority will offer a first look at its 2013 budget Wednesday, and new LIRR ridership figures and plans to add trains may be reasons for optimism, officials said.

The Long Island Rail Road in June posted its 10th consecutive month of ridership growth, continuing its reversal of a nearly three-year trend of losing riders, from 2008 until 2011.

In June, the LIRR transported 7,235,529 riders -- about 3 percent more than in June 2011.

"We're still in the growth period," LIRR president Helena Williams said at a Monday meeting of the MTA's railroad committee. "We're excited about the trend."

The LIRR also recently announced its plans to restore several trains eliminated from its schedule as part of service cuts made in 2010, when the MTA was looking to close a budget gap of nearly $1 billion.

Among the restorations is the return of overnight service to and from Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn. Starting in March, trains will run to and from Brooklyn as late as 2 a.m.

Williams said the additional service is meant to address the "new market" that will be created with the opening of The Barclays Center in Downtown Brooklyn in September.

MTA board member Mitchell Pally, of Stony Brook, said the ridership figures and service restorations reflect how the MTA's financial footing has improved.

But Pally said the MTA's preliminary draft 2013 operating budget being released Wednesday will balance the books based on several "assumptions," and added that the financial forecast through 2016 is "scary."

Still, Pally said, "There's clearly a feeling at both the MTA and the railroad that things are getting somewhat better . . ."

LIRR Commuter Council chairman Mark Epstein agreed, but said they should continue to demand more for their money, especially with another 7.5 percent fare hike planned for next year.

Epstein noted that some of the 2010 service cuts, including year-round weekend service to Greenport and West Hempstead, are not being restored.

"I do think they are on the right track of fiscal responsibility," he said. "But we still can't have the rider shouldering all the responsibility."

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