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State: LIRR evaluating how to increase service to Belmont

Pictured is an aerial view of the parking

Pictured is an aerial view of the parking lot in Belmont Park where the Islanders new arena is planned to be constructed. Credit: Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo / Kevin P. Coughlin

The state’s chief business development agency said the Long Island Rail Road is “evaluating existing rail infrastructure” around Belmont Park in an effort to determine how best to increase service to the planned new Islanders arena.

The LIRR study is expected to be completed by the end of September.

The Islanders arena is expected to be open for the 2021-22 NHL season. The project is currently in the environmental review stage and construction is expected to begin in the spring 2019.

Empire State Development officials gave the updated LIRR timeline at a meeting last week with a group of local activists called the Belmont Park Community Coalition. ESD has since posted its presentation from that meeting on its website.

ESD also said its officials and representatives from New York Arena Partners — the name of the Islanders’ Belmont development partners — have met with the LIRR four times since the Islanders group won the development rights at Belmont in December.

LIRR spokeswoman Sarah Armaghan, when told of ESD’s representation of the LIRR timeline, said the railroad is “committed and will continue to work with ESD and the developers as this project progresses.”

Currently, the LIRR only runs to Belmont on race days. Making the LIRR station at Belmont a full-time stop was a key to the Islanders’ proposal to develop up to 43 acres of state-owned land at Belmont into a sports and entertainment destination. The plan, announced by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in December, includes an 18,000-seat arena, 435,000 square feet of retail stores, restaurants and a movie theater, and a 250-room hotel.

Cuomo said in December the LIRR was committed to expanding service to a new Islanders arena at Belmont. ESD spokeswoman Amy Varghese said the agency has been in contact with the LIRR regarding Belmont service since then.

There are challenges involved with expanding LIRR service.

MTA chairman Joe Lhota testified at a state budget hearing in January that the LIRR is already at max capacity during evening rush hour commutes — a time when most Islanders fans would be expected to be taking the train to weeknight games. Lhota also said the design of the current Belmont spur off the main line is an obstacle.

However, new LIRR president Phil Eng told Newsday’s editorial board in May that the railroad shouldn’t “limit ourselves in terms of our imagination” at Belmont.

“For the Belmont arena to be successful, mass transit must be a viable option for people to get to and from major events,” state Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) said. “The LIRR should be creative and daring in generating options for the type of service possible at Belmont.”

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