Passengers were stuck for four hours on a subway train during a snowstorm Thursday, a repeat of the mass strandings that plagued the nation's largest transportation system during a Christmas weekend blizzard.
The problems started late Wednesday night, when snow caused signal failures on aboveground sections of the sprawling subway system, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority said.
Riders going from Manhattan to Brooklyn were routed to an N line train headed to the distant Coney Island terminal around midnight, passenger Eva Mahoney said. They were told they could double-back to their final stops from there, she said.
But then the MTA suspended service on the line, stranding the train at the Coney Island station from 2 a.m. to 6 a.m.
A conductor tried to get riders to disembark, Mahoney said. She and the other passengers refused. The heavy snow had stopped bus service, and there were no taxis on the streets, she said.
"I said, 'You can't put us out in the snow. We have no place to go,'" Mahoney said. "They just wanted us to go and get lost."
Transit officials finally relented and let the passengers stay on board where it was warm, she said. Passengers pulled down their hats and tried to sleep while sitting up on the train's hard benches.
The MTA said it suspended service because it was afraid that trains full of passengers might get stuck between stations. It said it had intended to use the empty train to clear snow later in the morning.
"It's clear that we could have done a better job communicating with customers on the need to dispatch one of the trains as a non-passenger 'sweeper train' to clear tracks, and making them comfortable in the terminal until service was restored," the agency said in a written statement.
The MTA said it was trying to avoid the mistakes of Dec. 26, when it tried to continue passenger service through the worst of the storm and ended up stranding hundreds of buses and several trains. About 500 people spent the night trying to keep warm on an A train that was trapped for seven hours between the Rockaway Boulevard and Aqueduct stations in Queens.
During a City Council hearing on Jan. 14, MTA president Thomas Prendergast said the agency was "out of practice" with big snowstorms.
The MTA is one of the world's biggest public transportation systems, with 6,307 buses and 8,711 rail and subway cars. It carries some 8.5 million riders daily.
By Thursday afternoon most of its subway lines were running normally. The Metro-North and Long Island Rail Road commuter lines were running fewer trains than usual, and buses were shuttling riders between some sections on Long Island because of electrical outages and track damage.
In general, the agency's response showed improvement over the Dec. 26 storm, said Gene Russianoff, staff attorney for the Straphangers' Campaign, an advocacy group for commuters.
"I have to give them credit," he said. "This time they were a lot better."
When subway service finally resumed at 6 a.m., Mahoney decided to go straight to work in Manhattan instead of going home to Dyker Heights, Brooklyn.
"I wouldn't have gotten home and back to the city," she said, "if I had to slog through the snow."