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Next Stop: Not West Hempstead

On weekends it’s a ghost town, but are station times a changin’?

Long Island Rail Road President Helena Williams has received many phone calls and letters from West Hempstead residents, but not about late trains. They are complaining about no train service at all, at least on weekends. 

The inquiries have been coming since the new luxury apartment complex West 130 was erected near the West Hempstead train station, and weekend service was eliminated. 

Since weekend trains were cut in 2010, the area resembles a ghost town after the last trains rolls through on Friday night. When the Courtesy Hotel was shuttered in January 2011 and demolished to make way for West 130 that May, talk of the return of weekend service surfaced, but little was done.

On Saturday and Sunday, the station is desolate. If it were forest country, owls would be whooing, woodpeckers would crack oak and squirrels would sleep soundly amongst the emptiness. Local officials and railroad reps have touted the weekend twilight zone as transit-oriented development since the plan to build on the site commenced years ago.

While Williams was unsure if increased service to the branch would occur, she did not dismiss the idea during a sit-down at Anton Community Newspapers last week. She stated that as the four-story dwelling’s capacity grows, weekend service talks could pick up.

“I look at West Hempstead as a perfect example of a community that made an investment in converting that God-awful Courtesy Hotel into wonderful, multiple-dwelling housing,” said Williams. “As space started to fill up, I’m already getting the letters, phone calls, asking what we’re going to do about weekend service. I have made a commitment to keep working with [West 130] to hear where they are in leasing the location.”

West Hempstead lost 17 trains per weekend day when the MTA Board ratified the changes three years ago. Current weekday service includes 29 trains, with 16 eastbound and 13 westbound.

“We’re identifying the benefits of transit-oriented development,” she said. “That applies in Nassau County as well.”

The station, which sits a stone’s throw from Hempstead Turnpike, was not the only station to see weekend service cuts in 2010. Greenport was also slashed. The two cuts were part of a group of measures to close a then-$800 million hole in the MTA budget.

Williams noted fiscal woes within New York State and the MTA at the time as the reason for service cuts to those two stations. New York, according to Williams, mandated the MTA cut where it could.

“The state was in a fiscal crisis. We had to reduce our expenses. I recognize that I’d like to have weekend service for everybody,” Williams stated. “That’s true for Greenport and that’s true for West Hempstead.”

The 2.7-acre apartment complex’s opening was delayed because of Hurricane Sandy. One hundred fifty units opened in December.

The Hempstead Avenue project was able to move forward because the Town of Hempstead created a transit-oriented development zone in late 2008 that allowed for greater density in the area, according to Town Supervisor Kate Murray.

“Transit-oriented housing represents the future for Long Island,” Murray said. “It is the epitome of smart-growth. By approving the transit-oriented zone for the site and working with the LIRR to accomplish our mutual objectives, the Hempstead Town Board paved the way for an apartment complex that was designed to attract young professionals who commute into the city on a daily basis.”

West Hempstead Community Support Association President Rosalie Norton was “very upset” when they canceled weekend service at the station. She said it’s been hers and the WHCSA’s “fervent hope” to see weekend times restored.

“I would always ask the same question in when they think they could restore the service,” Norton stated.

Norton hopes that the demand of weekend service will pick up once West 130 is fully occupied. She has been in front of every development from the initial West Hempstead Urban Renewal Plan released in July 2007 to the hotel’s demise two years ago.

“In order to increase ridership, the MTA needs to open up weekend service at stations that were cut,” she said.

Mill Creek Residential Trust (MCRT) bought the property in February 2011. North East Division Vice President Jamie Stover expects West 130 to reach full occupancy this summer. 

“Approximately one-quarter of the building has leased within just about two months of opening the leasing office,” he said. “We are very encouraged by the positive response about the community’s high quality amenities and apartment interiors from prospects since opening our doors.” 

While Stover realizes that the MTA and LIRR are dealing with fiscal woes, expanding services to West Hempstead is still very much in the realm of West 130’s psyche.

“Many residents of West 130 will want to live at the property for the convenience of living just steps from the West Hempstead LIRR station and therefore we expect LIRR ridership at the West Hempstead station to increase over time,” said Stover.  We understand the difficult budget situation that the MTA and LIRR has faced in recent years but it is our hopes that LIRR may re-consider expanding service on the West Hempstead branch.”