Early-morning commuters at the Southport Railroad Station no longer have to shiver in the dark on the station's platform.
The station building on the New York-bound side, which provides shelter from frigid temperatures and inclement weather, will now be open at least an hour earlier as a result of a recent decision by the Parking Authority. The building used to open by 6:30 a.m. and now will be open by 5:30 a.m. On Monday, it was open about 5 a.m.
The authority's decision came days before another cold spell was forecast to sweep into the region, with temps predicted in the single digits before sunrise.
David Hilliker, one of several commuters waiting for the 5:14 a.m. train to New York on Monday, said he was glad the station building was open. "Especially in the winter because sometimes the train gets delayed and when it's cold and windy it's nice to go in a place where you have shelter," he said.
Seamus O'Neill, who also was waiting for the 5:14 a.m. train, said that since Metro-North trains aren't always on time it's nice to have an indoor waiting room in frigid weather.
More rail commuters arrived to wait for the 5:56 a.m. train and most waited inside the depot.
"When it's extremely cold, it's tough to wait on the platform," said Lina LoBello of Fairfield, who was sitting on a wooden bench by the rear door that leads to the platform steps.
Dominick Geraci of Fairfield, who like LoBello, regularly takes the 5:56 a.m. train, said waiting in a car when it's cold isn't as good as waiting in the station building because it's harder to hear announcements over Metro-North Railroad's PA system. "I'm definitely happy it's open. When it's cold outside it's definitely more comfortable," he said. "I think it's safer too, being in here."
Cindy Placko, the Parking Authority's director, said Monday that the station building would be open by 5:30 a.m. year-round. While Southport commuters cited the cold as a reason for opening the station earlier, Placko said the platform also doesn't provide much protection from downpours in warmer weather.
Placko said the only additional cost to opening the depot earlier is for electricity. She said a town Department of Public Works' employee who had been opening the station by 6:30 a.m. would now do it by 5:30 a.m. "It's the same guy as it was before. We are paying somebody to do it but it's the same cost. There's no increased cost," she said. "Maybe a slight increase for an extra hour of electricity."
The Parking Authority backed the earlier opening time after hearing from two commuters -- Madeleine d'Ambrosio and William Kuhn -- at its meeting last week. They asked that the westbound depot be open at 5:30 a.m. or 5:45 a.m. instead of 6:30 a.m.
"It's cold out there and the trains get later and later," Kuhn said to board members at the Jan. 23 meeting in Sullivan-Independence Hall. "A lot of people, because of the delays in service, are taking earlier trains."
d'Ambrosio, who also lives in Southport, said the train station building, restored a few years ago after a fire, is "lovely and warm."
"But we're standing outside," she said.
"I just would like to see if we could move it up earlier so people could be inside and not freezing on the platform," she told the Parking Authority members.
On Monday morning, the station was open well in advance of the 5:14 a.m. New York-bound train, the first to stop in Southport weekday mornings.
Unlike a recent spate of disrupted Metro-North commutes, the 5:14 a.m. train was only a few minutes late Monday and the 5:56 a.m. train was on time.