Metro-North expects rail riders to quit work and get a head start on the holiday weekend starting around midday Friday and is shuffling the train schedule to accommodate the early birds.
Meantime, a national motor club is encouraging drivers to hit the road now, or as soon as possible, to beat the bumper-to-bumper grind that always accompanies Memorial Day weekend, annually one of the nation's busiest travel times.
Stormy weather could further complicate weekend holiday plans: With rain expected through Sunday morning, travel headaches began Thursday with flooded roads and delays of up to two hours and 30 minutes at area airports.
"Probably the best thing is to get an early start," said Robert Sinclair Jr., a spokesman for the American Automobile Association. "If you could leave now, that would be good."
ADDING 23 GETAWAY TRAINS
Metro-North is adding 23 getaway trains out of Grand Central Terminal on its Hudson, Harlem and New Haven lines, all leaving between noon and about 4 p.m. Friday. It's also adding an outbound getaway train on its west-of-Hudson Pascack Valley and Port Jervis line on Friday, as well as an extra inbound afternoon train on Monday.
Some peak-period afternoon and evening trains out of Grand Central will be canceled to free up resources for the getaway trains.
The complete modified schedule can be found on the MTA's website, www.mta.info.
Metro-North is expecting a 170 percent spike in outbound riders from Grand Central between noon and 4 p.m. Friday, necessitating the extra trains, spokesman Aaron Donovan said Thursday. That will be offset by a 31 percent drop in ridership during the traditional 4-8 p.m. "rush hour" period, he said.
The railroad will operate on its normal weekend schedules Saturday and Sunday, and will operate on a Sunday schedule on Monday.
No lingering effects are expected from the recent derailment and collision in Bridgeport, Conn., Donovan said.
"Everything is back up and normal service has been restored," he said.
Despite heavy rains and flooding in the area Thursday afternoon, service was operating normally on all lines as of 4:30 p.m., Donovan said.
Amtrak spokesman Cliff Cole said the railroad was expecting an increase in ridership, but not enough to require extra trains as is often the case with its busiest times, Thanksgiving and Christmas. "We're not going to be making any adjustments to schedules," Cole said. "Seats are available."
EXPECT TRAFFIC JAMS
The AAA is projecting 34.8 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home this weekend, actually down a tick from last year's 35.1 million and way off the record of 44 million set in 2005, but enough to keep roads clogged in the Hudson Valley and beyond.
Sinclair attributed the expected dip to the sluggish pace of the economic recovery.
"People are pulling back slightly in what they're spending," he said.
Locally, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey expects 3.2 million travelers to use its tunnels and bridges this weekend, the agency said in a statement Thursday. It said it will have "a full complement" of toll collectors on duty to help push traffic through the crossings.
It's offering cellphone and email traffic alerts to those who sign up at http://btt.paalerts.com.
"We expect some increase, but in reality, most of our bridges are local bridges," he said.
Drivers should allow extra time for slow progress in heavy traffic, Sinclair said, and should consider getting their cars tuned up to guard against breakdowns. In particular, make sure tires are properly inflated and look for corrosion around car batteries, he said.
Complicating the local picture, a slow-moving cold front was entering the region on Thursday, bringing a succession of showers and thunderstorms that could drop up to 2 1/2 inches of rain over the next few days, before things finally dry up about midday Sunday.
MORE THAN A MILLION AIR TRAVELERS
The Port Authority is expecting its three major airports to handle more than 1.5 million passengers between Friday and Tuesday, an increase of 1.4 percent over last year. Of these, about 690,000 will use Kennedy Airport, 450,000 will travel through Newark-Liberty International Airport, and 360,000 will pass through LaGuardia Airport, the agency said. Traveler alerts are available at www.airportinfoalerts.com.
Stewart International Airport in New Windsor will serve about 4,000 travelers during that time, the Port Authority said.
Westchester County Airport in Harrison doesn't project passenger totals, but the airport's assistant manager, Steve Ferguson, said he was seeing "a little bump in passenger boardings so far" on Thursday and expected a busy weekend.
"Tonight will be a getaway night, and Friday night will be as well," Ferguson said. "Then people will be coming back Sunday night, Monday night and even into Tuesday morning."
Ferguson advised fliers to get to the airport at least an hour and a half before their scheduled departure times.
Flights out of Westchester were mostly on time Thursday, but Ferguson said officials were eyeing the expected thunderstorm activity later in the day.
"That may impact us later," he said. "We're keeping our fingers crossed."
With Karl De Vries