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LIRR resumes weekend service to West Hempstead

A commuter arrives at the West Hempstead branch

A commuter arrives at the West Hempstead branch of the LIRR as it restarts weekend service on Saturday, Nov. 22, 2014 in West Hempstead. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

Weekend service returned to Long Island Rail Road's West Hempstead branch early Saturday after being derailed 50 months by low ridership -- but the first two trains had very few takers.

No passengers were on the first inbound train at 6:50 a.m., and one person was on the train's return to West Hempstead at 8:06 a.m.

Just one passenger headed out on the second train from the West Hempstead station at 8:50 a.m.

Salvatore Arena, a spokesman for the LIRR, said the service was cut in 2010 as part of a Metropolitan Transportation Authority austerity plan in the face of a large budget gap.

"The rationale was low ridership and the fact that West Hempstead branch customers had other options nearby -- namely stations on the Babylon and Hempstead branches and the Main Line at Mineola," he said.

But Saturday, passenger Timothy Rock, who lives across the street from the train station and was alone on the 8:50 a.m. inbound train, said he was pleased at the return of a more convenient trip to Manhattan.

"I think it's excellent," Rock said. "Now I don't have to go to Garden City."

He said the proximity of the train station to his home "was one of the selling points for me -- it was easy to get to New York."

The service stops in Hempstead Gardens, Lakeview, Malverne, Westwood and Valley Stream, where passengers headed to New York's Pennsylvania Station can switch to the Babylon branch.

Malverne Mayor Patricia McDonald also applauded the service's return. She had been negotiating with railroad officials for years on the subject and was at a meeting at the MTA, the LIRR's parent agency, in July when the restoration was announced.

State Senate Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), Assemb. Brian Curran (R-Lynbrook) and West Hempstead civic leader Rosalie Norton were "very active in pushing for return of the weekend service," McDonald said.

She noted the weekend service is just in time for the holidays, "and this will make it a lot easier for those in this area with family members in New York City to visit each other."

After a fight of more than a decade, town and community officials got a problematic motel near the station closed in 2011 and later replaced by upscale housing with the LIRR as a selling point.

"When Hempstead Town approved a landmark housing development that was especially designed for train commuters adjacent to the West Hempstead railroad station, we were delighted to encourage the use of mass transit by residents of the new homes," said Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray. "Now, that the MTA and the LIRR are restoring weekend service . . . we can encourage more commuters to leave their cars at home."

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