The Long Island Rail Road said Wednesday it will ramp up service to Belmont to accommodate fans traveling to and from a new arena there.
However, several logistical and infrastructural hurdles stand in the way of doing much at the little-used station.
Belmont station connects to the LIRR’s Main Line via a single-track rail spur just east of Queens Village. Currently, the LIRR only runs trains to the station during horse racing season — from April to July and again from September to October. The two trains in and two trains out of the station are usually more than enough to carry the sparse number of riders who use the service.
The limitations of the rail spur were on display during the 2014 Belmont Stakes, when 36,000 customers poured into the station after the race, resulting in dangerous crowding and waits of more than three hours to board a train.
After the incident, the LIRR spent $5 million to upgrade its dilapidated station with new platforms, stairs and ramps. It also boosted service for Belmont Stakes day by taking one track out of service on the nearby Hempstead branch and using it to pre-position trains serving Belmont. With those improvements, the LIRR has handled the Belmont Stakes crowds in recent years with relative ease.
But substantially increasing service to Belmont on weekdays would be considerably more challenging, in part because fans traveling to the new arena for Islanders games on weeknights would be doing so during the rush hour, when potential to add more trains on the congested Main Line is extremely limited.
LIRR spokesman Aaron Donovan’s only statement on the matter Wednesday was to say the railroad is “committed to expanding service” at Belmont.
Further complicating matters, the Main Line track that connects to the Belmont spur is used exclusively for eastbound travel, making for complicated and disruptive maneuvers for trains heading west from Belmont after a game.
MTA Board member Mitchell Pally, of Stony Brook, said that while the LIRR’s ability to run more service to Belmont is “limited” by infrastructure constraints, they could be addressed with a “significant investment” in the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s next five-year capital program.
“The good thing is we have a rail line there and we have a station. The bad thing is it’s obviously not designed for day-to-day operations,” said Pally, who suggested that improvements could be wrapped into the LIRR’s plan to build a third track on the Main Line just east of the Belmont spur at Floral Park. “I’m convinced that we can do a lot more than we are doing now.”