LIRR President Patrick Nowakowski Monday vowed to improve the railroad's Belmont service by building new station platforms and increasing capacity -- with the goal of nearly doubling the number of trains that can run to the racetrack -- in time for next year's Belmont Stakes.
The project comes after the Long Island Rail Road was crushed by unprecedented crowds at this year's June 7 Stakes race, leading to thousands of riders being delayed as much as three hours.
"We have a plan that we're moving forward with for next year," Nowakowski said at a meeting of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's LIRR Committee Monday. "We're very hopeful that we can do much better in terms of loading trains in and out of there."
The key element of the plan involves using the LIRR's nearby Hempstead branch both to access the small Belmont station from the east, and also to store and stage trains.
Currently, LIRR trains access Belmont along a single track branching off the Main Line.
That limitation means the LIRR can't send a train to pick up customers at Belmont until one train completely clears the single track.
Using the Hempstead line, the LIRR could dispatch a train to Belmont coming from the east as soon as one pulls out westward. The LIRR will take one Hempstead branch track out of service to park trains that will go to Belmont, and also store more trains at a West Hempstead yard.
The LIRR also plans to build two elevated station platforms at Belmont, where customers currently access trains from small staircases at ground level. And the LIRR is working with the New York Racing Association on a possible extension of the LIRR's tracks to accommodate 10-car trains instead of eight-car trains.
NYRA officials did not respond to a request for comment.
All told, Nowakowski said the efforts could allow the LIRR to nearly double the amount of trains it can run into and out of Belmont. Nowakowski said the plan, which would have some impact on Hempstead service, would only be put in effect on the day of the Belmont Stakes, and not during other race days that the LIRR runs to the park.
The LIRR has said that the 36,000 customers it carried to this year's Belmont Stakes, in which California Chrome failed in his bid to capture the Triple Crown, shattered its previous Belmont ridership record by more than 10,000 riders.