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With LIRR woes, Port Washington line to the rescue

Commuters on the Port Washington line love their train.

The branch, which serves northern Queens and portions of North Hempstead have been enjoying a smooth, relatively crowd-free ride to and from the city this week. Other Long Island Rail Road riders endured a fifth day of delays and canceled trains on Friday stemming from a fire that damaged the track switching system near the Jamaica train station.

"It's been real easy. No problems so far," Roger Lifson, a Port Washington resident and vice president at J.P. Morgan Chase, said from his office. "The train's been on time, the cars are half empty."

The Port Washington branch - the only line in the system that does not pass through the Jamaica transit hub - was the only LIRR line to run delay-free this week.

The line runs through Port Washington, Manhasset and Great Neck as it heads west into the city, about a 35-minute ride during rush hour and about 45 minutes off peak between Penn Station and the end of the line.

The railroad has been advising commuters this week to consider taking the route if possible.

As a result, business owners said they've seen a slight influx of riders.

"We must have seen every single cab company from Long Island dropping off people at the station on Monday," said Andrea Majer, executive vice president of Deluxe Transportation Services, a taxi company based at the station.

Branch ridership numbers for this week were not available from the LIRR, but given the usual summer ridership decline, rail officials said the influx of passengers was not enough to warrant extra service on the line.

"It was not so bad," Roberto Matox, a Queens resident who arrived in Port Washington at about 4 p.m., on his way to his job at the Village Club of Sands Point, said of the train crowds. "It was full in Flushing, but that's it."

For commuters on the Port Washington line, this week's rail delays highlight what they say is the need for continued service to the area.

The branch is among five LIRR routes slated for service reductions in September by the Metropolitan Transit Authority in order to close an $800-million budget shortfall. Weekday off-peak service to the community will go from half-hourly to hourly under the plan.

"Everyone looking to buy or rent here knows about that line," said Perry Rootstein, of Port Washington Properties. "It's such a quick, convenient commute. No change in Jamaica."

"It's one of the jewels of the LIRR," said Nassau County Deputy Executive Patrick Foye, a Port Washington resident who takes the line often to visit his two daughters at Fordham University. "It helps keep the real estate market strong and is an essential part of the economy and quality of life for the North Shore communities it serves."

With Alfonso Castillo

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