MTA chairman Joe Lhota said Thursday that he’s “concerned” about the complications involved with expanding Long Island Rail Road service to the Islanders’ new arena at Belmont Park and added that a study is underway.
Lhota, testifying before a state budget hearing in Albany, said two obstacles include the design of the current Belmont spur off the main line and the LIRR’s inability to add more trains during the evening rush hour, when most Islanders fans would be traveling to weeknight games.
“We’re at capacity on the main line during rush hour, and so we’re going to have to look at that and weigh that in,” Lhota said under questioning by state Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach). “I’m concerned about how that’s going to all fit in at any one particular point in time.”
Lhota added that the spur off the Hicksville line to Belmont currently allows for trains coming only from the west. “There’s no way going from where most Long Islanders would take [it] if they were taking the Long Island Rail Road as opposed to driving to go see the Islanders,” he said.
Lhota said he will not know the cost of potential upgrades at Belmont — where trains currently run only on race days — until the study is complete. He provided no timetable.
The LIRR had said only that it’s committed to expanding service at Belmont but had not provided any details.
Making the LIRR station at Belmont full-time was a key to the Islanders’ proposal to develop up to 43 acres of state-owned land at Belmont. Their winning proposal, as announced by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo last month, calls for an 18,000-seat arena, 435,000 square feet of retail stores, restaurants and a movie theater, and a hotel with 200 to 250 rooms.
Cuomo’s office said last month that the LIRR “will develop a plan to modify service to accommodate New Yorkers for sporting and special events.” State officials said all parties remain committed to expanding service to accommodate the arena.
Islanders co-owner Jon Ledecky has been outspoken about the need for the Belmont LIRR station to become “a vital part of the community, not just when there is horse racing and not just when there is a concert or a game. All the time.”
Lhota, under questioning from Kaminsky, added at Thursday’s state hearing, “I do understand the desire on the part of the state and the owners of the Islanders and the community in and around Belmont about how important it is for them to have transit.”
After the hearing, Kaminsky tweeted, “A full time LIRR station at Belmont w/ expanded service is key for Belmont community & to reduce Isles traffic.”