Metro-North's Hudson and Harlem lines will get a huge boost in off-peak and weekend service come April as the nation's busiest commuter rail continues to roll out the largest service expansion in its 30-year history with the addition of 174 trains, Newsday has learned.
"This big addition is in recognition of and response to the growth of our off-peak and weekend ridership," said Marjorie Anders, a spokeswoman for Metro-North's parent agency, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
Eighty weekday trains and 19 weekend trains will be added to the Hudson Line schedule as Metro-North tries to capitalize on rider interest in station-to-station trips through the Hudson Valley as well as weekend jaunts into New York City, railroad officials said.
The Harlem Line will get 60 more weekday trains and six more on the weekend.
And the New Haven Line, which added 45 weekend and weekday trains during the first phase of the rollout in October, soon will add nine weekend trains to its schedule.
The expansion will have its greatest impact on the Irvington station in Westchester County, along with Riverdale and Spuyten Duyvil in the Bronx, each of which will see a 25 percent bump in trains on some days. In addition to added service, certain trains currently not scheduled to stop at the three stations would be rerouted to do so.
The off-peak and weekend expansion is a nod to changing ridership trends on Metro-North, which has witnessed its dependable morning commuter ridership flatten out during the past two decades.
Thirty years ago, the rush-hour commuter contributed to nearly three-quarters of Metro-North's ridership totals. Today, they make up less than half of Metro-North's 83 million riders, according to railroad officials.
Meanwhile, the number of reverse commuters taking trips into the Hudson Valley has surged along with off-peak and weekend riders.
The coming April expansion follows the addition of 79 trains to the Harlem, New Haven and Pascack Valley lines in October.
The goal is to reduce wait times during off-peak and weekend hours to half an hour or less along the commuter rail's major lines, according to MTA officials.
"When you take out that pesky, hourlong wait, it makes riding the train more attractive," Anders said.
Commuters at the Irvington station Wednesday night hailed the upcoming increase in service.
"I've been an advocate for increasing the number of trains," said Larry Goldfarb, 51, of Irvington, who has been riding Metro-North since 1990. "I always felt like we were underserved. I feel like adding the trains seems like the right thing to do."
"It's terrific," said Randy Glucksman, the chairman of the Metro-North Railroad Commuter Council. "They wouldn't put the service there unless it was needed."
Last year, Metro-North tallied 83 million riders but was on pace to break the 2008 record of 83.6 million when superstorm Sandy shut down rail lines for several days in late October.
The Hudson Line, with 15.9 million riders last year, witnessed the most modest growth of Metro-North's three main lines, with a .3 percent increase over 2011 levels.
The New Haven Line, which stretches into Connecticut, set a record last year with 38.8 million rides, up 1.3 percent from the previous year's 38.3 million.
Harlem Line ridership was 26.6 million, an increase of .8 percent over 2011 figures.
Metro-North officials are hoping to lure more riders onto the Hudson Line.
"The Hudson Line is the big winner in all this," Anders said.
At least one Metro-North rider wondered whether the added trains are the railroad's justification for its upcoming fare hike. On March 3, fares on some Metro-North routes will jump as high as 16.7 percent as the MTA seeks to increase revenue by 7.5 percent on each of its bus, rail and commuter systems.
"They already run enough trains," said Roman Altschuler, 27, of Irvington. "Especially during rush hour; there's a train leaving every 20 minutes. If they're trying to say we'll charge you more but at the same time we'll give you more trains, I don't know if that really works."
With Faye Murman