LIRR Commute Back on Track - NBC New York

LIRR Commute Back on Track

Round-the-clock repair effort by LIRR workers returns vital Jamaica switching tower to service following fire



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    Long Island Rail Road employees work on the train tracks at the Jamaica station in the Queens borough of New York, Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2010. An electrical fire Monday in a switching tower had halted train service for four hours and disrupted the evening commute. The LIRR canceled some trains Tuesday morning and said it could take several days to make repairs.

    The Long Island Rail Road is back on schedule for the Monday morning rush.

    Delays and crowded trains stymied commuters on the LIRR virtually all of last week as crews worked to fix the damage caused by an electrical fire at its vital switching station in Jamaica. In a statement, the railroad credited a round-the-clock repair effort by LIRR workers to return the station to service.  No major delays were reported Monday morning.

    "We are operating on or close to schedule," said Mike Lewi. "We had a couple of equipment problems this morning but they were unrelated" to the signal problem from last week.

    LIRR said workers completed repairs and extensive testing of the switch and signal system by 4 p.m. Sunday, paving the way for full restoration of morning and evening rush hour service today.

    The Aug. 23 fire damaged a key signal tower located just east of the Jamaica station that controls 53 signals and 77 switch points in an area where 10 of 11 LIRR branches converge. All through last week, the LIRR ran 75 percent of its morning rush hour service and 66-68 percent of its afternoon rush hour service while repairs were underway.

    Passengers fortunate enough to take routes that weren't canceled suffered from severe overcrowding and delays. 

    The LIRR – the nation’s busiest commuter railroad – operates more than 700 trains into and out of its Manhattan and Brooklyn terminals on a typical weekday.

    "I appreciate the challenges our customers faced during the past week and I thank them for their patience during what has been a difficult time," LIRR President Helena E. Williams said in a statement. "I would also like to thank the hundreds of railroad employees who worked around the clock to put the damaged signal and switch system back together while keeping service going and assisting our customers throughout the week."       

    The switching and signal system in Jamaica is due for a major upgrade and modernization in late October and early November when a $56 million computerized control center will go online, replacing three existing signal towers that currently control some 155 switches in the Jamaica station area. The Jamaica upgrade is part of a $150 million effort to upgrade the LIRR’s switch and signal system at key areas of the railroad. Two other key switching areas – one near Bellerose and one in Valley Stream – have already been modernized during the last two years as part of the overall project.

    "Safety is always our No. 1 priority for our customers and our employees," Williams said. “These modernization projects will help ensure that we are moving toward the latest technology available to control train traffic safety and efficiently. In the event of a fire like the one that occurred last week, the new systems give us greater redundancy, better surge protection and improved diagnostic ability to isolate and fix problems."