Ridership on Metro-North's rail lines west of the Hudson River continues to lag as Rockland and Orange commuters seek out alternatives following back-to-back years of severe storms damaging trains and rail lines.
Metro-North's Port Jervis and Pascack Valley lines were down 24,000 passengers in December compared with December 2011, the latest Metropolitan Transportation Authority statistics show.
The 18 percent decrease that month, from 133,000 in December 2011 to 109,000 in December 2012, contributed to an overall 4.1 percent ridership decline for the year on the lines west of the Hudson River.
Metro-North attributed the overall dip to the lingering effects of superstorm Sandy last year and Tropical Storm Irene in 2011.
"Let's face it, after ... Irene hit they lost a lot of riders," said Orrin Getz, the Rockland coordinator for the Empire State Passenger Association, a statewide commuter advocacy group. "It was just starting to come back and then they got hit by [superstorm] Sandy."
The Port Jervis Line was the only Metro-North rail line to experience a ridership drop, with 7 percent fewer riders last year.
The Pascack Valley Line, with three station stops in Metro-North territory at Spring Valley, Nanuet and Pearl River, crept up slightly by 1.1 percent, the year-end statistics show. However, railroad officials had projected that the line would increase ridership by 8 percent last year.
Irene, which caused $50 million in damage when it touched down in August 2011, flooded a 14-mile stretch of rail line between Suffern and Harriman. Some two miles of right of way were destroyed by 50 washouts.
With its rail lines shut down in 2011, Metro-North employed a battalion of MTA buses to ferry commuters between Harriman and a NJ Transit station in Ramsey, N.J.
And last year, NJ Transit trains, which are used on the lines west of the Hudson as part of a contractual agreement, were badly damaged by flooding in New Jersey rail yards after Sandy struck Oct. 29, 2012. Hundreds of trains were damaged by water and still are undergoing repairs, NJ Transit officials said.
The result, according to commuters, has been fewer express trains on the Pascack and Port Jervis lines.
Some have resorted to taking a bus or car over the Tappan Zee Bridge to get to Metro-North Hudson Line trains at the Tarrytown station, railroad officials said.
In recent months, according to Metro-North, some 25-50 commuters from Rockland County have been taking the train at the Tarrytown station.
"Presumably, most of them were using the Pascack Valley Line," said MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan.
Others have resorted to taking a bus to the Port Authority Bus Terminal on Manhattan's West Side.
Getz doesn't blame Metro-North, which, he said, has worked hard to bring back service.
"They had 5 feet of water in those trains," Getz said, referring to the NJ Transit trains. "It knocked out the yards and everything else."