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Belmont exit goes more smoothly than last year

People line up to catch the Long Island

People line up to catch the Long Island Railroad after the 147th running of the Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park Race Track in Elmont, June 6, 2015 Photo Credit: Ed Betz

Thousands of elated horseracing fans streamed out of Belmont Park Saturday night in a scene that appeared far more orderly than last year's transportation meltdown.

While Long Island Rail Road trains were packed, and motorists inched out of parking lots, fans said officials provided better crowd control at Saturday's Belmont Stakes.

The mass exit was helped by the fact that the LIRR brought 10,000 fewer passengers to the track than last year -- 25,583 compared with 36,000 who rode the train to last year's event, officials said. Officials also erected barriers that helped funnel riders to trains without creating a crush.

After American Pharoah became the first horse in 37 years to win the Triple Crown, many also stayed behind to celebrate the historic win and watch a concert by the Goo Goo Dolls.

Last year, some LIRR riders waited up to 3 1/2 hours to board a train, while motorists waited in clogged parking lots full of confused drivers.

Many racegoers said Saturday that authorities seemed to have taken last year's chaotic lessons to heart -- starting with NYRA workers directing attendees in and out of the park, an effort that was absent last year.

"When you got here, it was chaos. Long delays. A lot of people just didn't really know what to do," said Nick Wagner, 26, of Bushwick. "This year, they had people directing people. It's a lot better this year."

Scott Abercrombie, 56, of Greenwich, Conn., recalled that last year he spent three hours in a bus with his friends in the parking lot trying to get home.

This year, he opted to take the train after hearing about improvements to the system. Abercrombie called the experience "organized and safe" this year.

Asked what officials did better, he said: "You can see there's crowd control -- it's totally safe ... I would have to say this is a fantastic event."

The LIRR, the New York Racing Association and the Nassau County Police had spent months trying to avoid a repeat of last year.

The railroad spent about $4 million and the NYRA spent $1 million on upgrades including elevated train platforms, new staircases and a handicapped-accessible ramp, extension of tracks to allow for trains with 10 cars instead of eight, and new signs and public address systems.

NYRA capped paid attendance at 90,000 people this year. Last year, more than 102,000 showed up to see California Chrome's failed bid to become the first horse to win horse racing's Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978.

For Saturday's event, officials added 18 extra trains. And for the first time, the LIRR used the Hempstead branch to bring empty trains into Belmont Park from the east as trains pulled out westward. Previously, inbound trains had to wait until an outbound train cleared the track.

The first crush of people leaving after the Belmont Stakes Saturday burst past barriers as officials opened them for the first trains departing at the end of the day. But the crowds were quickly reined in by another layer of barricades.

John Pulizotto, 54, of Mt. Olive, New Jersey, said last year he was lucky because he was on the first train out of the park.

He said he noticed more organization this year, including officials at Penn Station helping to direct people to the proper trains and helping to keep order.

At the LIRR station at Belmont Park, "they put up a lot of gates so you have different rows of people instead of a mass. It was very helpful."

Helen Shor, 28, of Brooklyn, said her trip home on the train last year was delayed after state fire marshals shut down part the pedestrian bridge over the LIRR tracks because of falling concrete.

"They wouldn't let us get on the train so we actually had to walk three miles to another Long Island Rail Road station to get to the train. It was terrible."

"This year, it seems to be working pretty well," she said.

She said that barriers officials put up to release people in waves this year were, "much, much better compared to last year when they just let everybody mob."

Jasen Cobo, 26, of Parsippany, N.J., said it took him an hour and a half to get just to get on the train last year.

"This, I can tell is already better than last year," he said of the organization efforts by MTA officials.

Cobo said he still was dreading the long trip home to New Jersey. "It's moving much more efficiently but the trains are still packed," he said.


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