Fire halts trains on NY’s Long Island Rail Road, nation’s largest commuter train system

By Colleen Long, AP
Monday, August 23, 2010

Trains halted on NY’s huge Long Island Rail Road

NEW YORK — A fire in a Long Island Rail Road switching station knocked out train service for more than four hours Monday, leaving passengers on the nation’s largest commuter rail line to contend with delays into the evening commute and beyond.

The 11 a.m. fire happened near the Jamaica station in Queens, a major transfer point for commuters going to or from Manhattan and Brooklyn and to various locations across Long Island.

Limited service out of Penn Station in Manhattan resumed shortly after 3 p.m., and as the evening commute wore on commuters appeared to be taking the disruptions in stride.

“It’s really not so bad,” said Luke Powers, who was headed home to Floral Park, about 15 miles east of midtown Manhattan. “I mean the wait is much longer than usual, but all things considered I’m still going to get home at a reasonable hour.”

Ann Christensen and her 9-year-old son, Christian, only had to travel a short distance from Manhattan to nearby Queens Village, but she was expecting a long journey.

“You would think that they would be better prepared to handle something like this,” she groused. “I’m expecting a very crowded ride.”

Ten of the railroad’s 11 branches were affected. The lone line running without delays was between New York and Port Washington, because the branch doesn’t go through Jamaica.

It’s likely to take several days to repair the switching machine and wiring, the railroad said Monday night. More than 200 wires need to be checked for possible fire damage.

Commuters should anticipate “significant schedule changes and delays” during Tuesday’s morning and evening rush hours, the railroad said in a statement.

The railroad said it planned to cancel about 25 percent of the trains that normally operate during Tuesday’s morning rush hour. However, morning service on the Port Washington Branch was to operate on a normal schedule.

LIRR crews were assessing the extent of the damage to the switching board and were working around the clock on repairs, the railroad’s statement said.

The commuter rail system carries about 265,000 daily riders, including about 100,000 evening commuters, LIRR President Helena Williams said.

She said the railroad was bypassing Jamaica on Monday night but trains were leaving Brooklyn and Penn Station.

Inside Penn Station, one of the nation’s busiest travel hubs, it was crowded, but commuters remained orderly.

“There’s simply nothing we can do about it,” said Liz Ring, visiting New York with her husband, John Ring, from New Castle Upon Tyne in England and spending time in Long Beach, on Long Island. “It’s not going to ruin our vacation. Any time you are visiting a city of this size there are bound to be problems.”

Riders were offered the option of using New York City subways and buses with their LIRR tickets.

The cause of the fire, which appeared to be weather-related, was under investigation.

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