If you go where everybody wants to go, it will take a while to get there, and to get out. That's true of Super Bowls, Times Square on New Year's Eve and concerts at Jones Beach.
Leading up to the Belmont Stakes on Saturday, the Long Island Rail Road knew that and took pains to let riders know it. The LIRR suggested that riders stick around for the two races after the feature, enjoy a concert that came after the races, and try to exhibit that rarest of New York traits: patience. This year's load exceeded by 16,000 passengers what the railroad carried the last time a Triple Crown hopeful ran.
Considering the size of the crowd and the myriad problems with Belmont's train station, the LIRR, even with its newfound emphasis on operational expertise, likely did as well as can be expected. LIRR officials said the line did not run short of rolling stock: It had trains lined up. However, with only a single track spur off the main line, the railroad took three hours to move, load and run 26 trains out. Also problematic: It wasn't possible to run trains of more than eight cars to the Belmont Park station (10 or 12 is the norm) because Belmont is the only LIRR station with no platforms. Passengers use antiquated wooden stairs.
The bigger issue is this: If there is ever to be any meaningful redevelopment of that area -- with an improved Belmont, a soccer stadium, office and industrial park, residential development or entertainment complex -- there has to be a real train station, proper track setup and service.
Right now, moving that many people is a visible problem on only one day a year, and not every year, at that. What's less glaring, and the bigger issue, is the extent to which mass transit problems will continue to plague eastern Queens and western Nassau County every normal day. Any plan to improve Belmont and better use the land around the track, and to revitalize the neighborhood, has to include a commitment to modernizing the train station.