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Hurricane Sandy causes October dip in Metro-North riders

A Metro-North train leaves the Rye train station,

A Metro-North train leaves the Rye train station, heading north toward Stamford. (Oct. 9, 2012) Photo Credit: Faye Murman

Some 620,000 fewer riders hopped aboard Metro-North in October than they did in the same month last year, an 8.4 percent dip caused by the four days when Hurricane Sandy largely shut down the commuter rail.

"While we had some severe weather in the last few years like Hurricane Irene, we had never seen anything like Hurricane Sandy and the damage it brought on Metro-North," Metro-North President Howard Permut said Monday at a Metropolitan Transportation Authority board meeting.

An additional 10,000 fewer Metro-North bus and ferry riders were tallied, according to MTA officials.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday estimated that transit-related losses because of superstorm Sandy will total $4.8 billion, but that does not include ridership losses. The full economic loss caused by the loss in riders will be detailed at a Wednesday MTA board meeting.

However, it's not likely to blow a hole through the agency's cash-pinched budget for next year. Insurance and federal reimbursements are expected to pick up the tab for the lost business, MTA officials said.

The nation's busiest commuter rail shut down at 5 p.m. on Oct. 28, the day before Sandy hit, and started up with limited service 2 1/2 days later, Permut said.

The Hudson Line experienced some of the greatest damage, with water surges of 10 feet or more flooding stations from Croton-Harmon south.

The Spuyten Duyvil station appeared to be afloat in pictures taken after the storm, Permut said. "It looks like the platform is in the middle of the ocean; it came up that high," Permut said.

Despite the drop in ridership, the commuter rail is still on pace to exceed last year's ridership numbers.

As of the end of October, ridership was up 2.2 percent from the same 10-month period last year, Permut said.

That translates into 1.5 million more riders so far in 2012 compared with the first 10 months of 2011. Last year, the railroad witnessed its second-highest ridership total in its 30-year history. The 82 million riders in 2011 was surpassed only by the 83.6 million that rode the rail in 2008.

"The underlying trends continue to be very positive," Permut said.

The MTA is considering an across-the-board fare hike of 7.5 percent for subways, buses and rail lines to close a $450 million gap in next year's $12.6 billion budget. Metro-North riders could face ticket increases as high as 9.3 percent depending on the route. A board vote on the proposal is scheduled for December, and any increase would go into effect in March.

Also Monday, Metro-North and the Long Island Rail Road won committee approval for a $2.5 million contract to purchase 28 ticket vending machines (20 for Metro-North and eight for the LIRR), with an option to buy 10 more.

Permut said the additional machines, at a cost of $61,252 apiece, would be necessary if machines at flood-damaged stations break down in the coming months.

"If we determine because of Sandy there are any machines that need to be replaced, we have 10 spares to do so," Permut said.

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