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Metro-North pushes to boost ridership west of the Hudson

A sign marks the Metro-North station in Sloatsburg.

A sign marks the Metro-North station in Sloatsburg. Metro-North is considering expanding service west of the Hudson River. (Aug. 23, 2012) Photo Credit: Angela Gaul

Metro-North is moving ahead with plans to add an extra track and a rail yard on its Port Jervis Line, as it tries to bump up ridership on the flagging commuter line west of the Hudson.

In the coming months, Metro-North officials are expected to ask their parent agency, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, to fund at least one of the projects. The additional track would be added north of Sloatsburg, where there is only one track for commuter trains, officials said.

Metro-North officials are hoping that track improvements will allow them to increase the frequency of trains on the Port Jervis Line, and that better service will lure more riders.

With the current track setup, service in Orange County is limited.

"This would improve the quality of the service, and increase frequency, which makes the train a more attractive option," said MTA spokeswoman Marjorie Anders.

Anders said it was too soon to estimate the cost of making the improvements, which would be financed through the MTA's capital construction program.

The proposals come out of the first phase of the MTA's West of Hudson Regional Transit Access Study.

Ridership on the Port Jervis Line has never fully recovered from a trough that followed a three-month shutdown in 2011 caused by Tropical Storm Irene. The storm washed out 14 miles of track from Suffern to Harriman. On top of that came superstorm Sandy in October 2012, which flooded NJ Transit rail yards in New Jersey and damaged some 100 trains, many of which are used on the Port Jervis Line.

West of the Hudson, Metro-North cooperates with NJ Transit, so that New York-bound commuters can have access to stations in Hoboken and Secaucus, where passengers can catch trains bound for Manhattan.

Last year, the Port Jervis Line was the only Metro-North line to experience a dip in ridership. Its 2012 ridership figures were 7 percent below the previous year, going from 1.09 million in 2011 to 1.01 million in 2012, a decrease of nearly 75,000 riders, Metro-North figures show.

Total ridership on the eight Orange County stops between Port Jervis and Sloatsburg was at just 1,700 last year, they show.

Commuter groups are looking forward to the improvements but wish that Metro-North would have coupled them with a new station near the Woodbury Common Premium Outlets in Harriman, one of the region's most popular shopping destinations.

"Having a station stop along the Port Jervis Line at Woodbury Common would be a good way to boost off-peak and weekend ridership when there is room on the trains to carry extra passengers at virtually no additional cost," said Orrin Getz, the Rockland coordinator of the Empire State Passenger Association.

He said the station would help cut down on weekend traffic jams, too.

"It has to cost a lot to keep all of these policemen out directing traffic out in front of Woodbury Common," Getz said.

Metro-North officials said they explored the station addition several years ago but decided to abandon it after the community opposed it.

"We looked at Woodbury years ago and the local community did not want a station there," Anders said. "At this point we have no interest."

In addition to the tracks, Metro-North is hoping to add a rail yard that will get more trains into service swiftly.

There is no rail yard in the 60-mile stretch between Suffern and Port Jervis, Anders said. By contrast, Metro-North's other rail lines have midpoint yards between 24 and 33 miles apart.

"The beauty of a midpoint yard is that it give us more flexibility," Anders said. "We can turn crews and trains in the closer, more heavily populated area and let us run more peak and off-peak service."

Nine potential sites for a new rail yard are being studied.

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