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LIRR saddles up for low-key Belmont Stakes with extra trains

Crowds arrive by Long Island Rail Road for

Crowds arrive by Long Island Rail Road for the 147th Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park in Elmont on June 6, 2015. On Saturday, the agency estimates it will carry as many as 20,000 racing fans. Credit: Newsday / Ed Betz

The Long Island Rail Road said it will be ready to move heavy crowds of riders to and from Belmont Park this Saturday, even if the stakes, and the attendance, won’t be nearly as high as in recent years.

With no Triple Crown on the line, LIRR President Patrick Nowakowski said recently that “history does not suggest” it will be a sellout crowd on Saturday. But the agency still projects carrying as many as 20,000 race fans.

“We will be prepared,” Nowakowski said at a recent meeting of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s LIRR Committee. “We will provide that service and we will get people to and from that event in the same manner we did last year.”

After a crush of 36,000 racegoers overwhelmed the LIRR following the 2014 Stakes — resulting in dangerous crowding and waits of more than three hours to board a train — the LIRR last year rolled out a new Belmont Stakes service plan. It included a $5 million upgrade of the LIRR’s dilapidated Belmont station with new platforms, stairs and ramps, and reconfigured service to allow for a more steady stream of trains pulling in and out of the station.

The improvements appeared to make a big difference. Following American Pharoah’s historic Triple Crown victory at last year’s Belmont Stakes, the LIRR handled 30,000 exiting fans with relative ease — clearing most of them out in an hour and a half.

“It’s an event that, as you know, we learned our lessons from a couple of years ago,” Nowakowski told committee members. “I think we did very well last year, and I anticipate we will do well this year.”

The LIRR has scheduled 20 trains to Belmont Park on Saturday, with 18 trains originating at Penn Station and two others at Jamaica. The first train departs Penn at 9:39 a.m. and the last at 4:32 p.m.

For the return trip, the first train will leave Belmont at 4:51 p.m. After the Stakes race, Nowakowski said the railroad will operate a “load and go” schedule, with trains leaving as soon as they fill up, and until Belmont closes and all customers have been cleared. The Belmont Stakes scheduled post time is 6:36 p.m.

Despite their efforts, LIRR officials cautioned that boarding a train after the Stakes race could still take up to two hours, “as thousands of fans emerge from the track at once.” To avoid long lines, the railroad is urging riders to stay for Belmont’s planned post-race concerts.

Nowakowski said the LIRR has worked closely with the New York Racing Association to coordinate security for the Belmont Stakes.

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