Today’s news:

MTA cuts back LIRR service

The MTA implemented cuts this week to the Long Island Rail Road, reducing service significantly along northeast Queens’ Port Washington line as a result of lower ridership numbers, an MTA spokesman said.

The LIRR cut back midday weekly service and weekend service from half-hour to hourly stops along the Port Washington branch, cancelling a total of 46 trains.

The line makes Queens stops in Woodside, Flushing, Murray Hill, Broadway, Auburndale, Bayside, Douglaston and Little Neck, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority said.

But the train’s peak-hour stops will remain intact, the MTA said.

Riders at Bayside’s LIRR station along Bell Boulevard said the cuts will force them to restructure their days.

“It affects me a lot,” said Bonnie Egger, a Bayside resident. “I’ll have to leave 45 minutes earlier to catch the train. This is messing up a lot of people’s schedules.”

Egger said she takes horseback riding classes each day on Long Island before heading to work near the site of the former World Trade Center in Manhattan. Her schedule will be interrupted by the LIRR’s cuts.

Alice Fink of Bayside said she is also unhappy about the changes in service.

“It’s definitely better if the train comes every half hour,” she said. “I take the train a lot to the city and sometimes I have to come back at night.”

Salvatore Arena, an MTA spokesman, said the Port Washington line drew 43,650 riders daily in 2007 and saw in increase to 45,420 customers in 2008. But the line’s ridership dropped to 43,420 in 2009.

“The guiding principle in determining how the railroad met its budget obligations was that we’d make the cuts in the areas that impacted the fewest number of customers as we went branch by branch,” he said. “The railroad had a number that it had to save. To achieve the savings, it had to look at its entire operating area and to see which line had the fewest customers. In the case of Port Washington, it was the off peak period.”

He said the MTA could not determine whether the LIRR lost riders to local bus routes or subways.

The MTA’s debt has risen from $13 billion in 2000 to $31 billion in 2010 and most funding sources have dried up, said Hilary Ring, the MTA’s director of government affairs, during an appearance before the City Council Transportation Committee Monday. Much of the agency’s plight has been the result of borrowing $23 billion with the prospect of huge interest bills.

Overnight service between the Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn and Jamaica was also eliminated. On weekends and weeknights, that train will run from Brooklyn until approximately midnight and resume around 5:30 a.m. The last eastbound train on weekdays will be the 11:55 p.m. from the Atlantic Terminal.

The first westbound train on weekday mornings will be the 5:33 a.m. from Jamaica, arriving in Brooklyn 18 minutes later.

The Far Rockaway Branch’s morning peak train, which departs Rosedale at 6:33 a.m. and Laurelton at 6:36 a.m., has also been canceled.

He said the service eliminations were the second round of cuts to the LIRR that have been introduced gradually by the MTA.

Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e-mail at nduke@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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