Benjamin Carroll

LIRR Riders Face Nightmare Rush-Hours Thursday After Power Troubles in East River Tunnel, Penn Station

Both LIRR and Metro-North commuters faced problems Thursday

What to Know

  • After a rough morning commute that saw hundreds of people getting stranded, LIRR riders are in for more problems Thursday evening
  • Meanwhile, Metro-North riders on the New Haven line had their own issues Thursday, though they were largely over by the evening rush
  • It's less than 2 weeks before Amtrak's summer work at NY Penn; are you feeling the #TrainPain4NY? Share your stories with us

Long Island Rail Road riders had another hellish commute Thursday evening after already enduring a nightmare morning rush that stranded hundreds of riders for hours. 

After a track condition outside Amtrak's East River Tunnels stranded hundreds of commuters in the morning, LIRR said Thursday evening that westbound service was suspended between the Jamaica and Woodside stations in Queens and Penn Station, because 12 of 21 tracks at Penn were having power problems. Some eastbound trains were also canceled as a result. 

Amtrak owns the tracks at Penn Station and leases them out to NJ Transit and the MTA. Thursday evening's power issues were just the latest in a series of problems that have plagued the busy transit hub. 

Power was restored to most of the tracks at Penn Station by Thursday night, but Amtrak spokesman Mike Tolbert said, "Crews are still working to restore third rail power to several areas of the station."

Westbound service was restored around 6 p.m. and most service was back to normal by 8 p.m., but for many commuters the damage was already done; many had already taken subway trains to the Woodside and Jamaica stations.

Frustrated passengers told News 4 it was just another day in the life of an LIRR commuter. 

"It's always cancelled, it's always delayed, nothing is on time," Michael Wright, of Mineola, said. "It's only going to get worse." 

"Just want to find a way to get home," David Kastriner, of Far Rockaway, said. "It's ridiculous, day after day that we have to put up with this." 

Toby Wolf was just one of the thousands of passengers stuck waiting for another train amid Amtrak's power problems, which were affecting the third rail that powers the tracks. 

Wolf said she expected a "super, super crowded" train, "standing room only."

The LIRR problems Thursday evening came as Metro-North started to get rolling again after facing its own problems earlier in the afternoon: an overhead wire was damaged and a train broke down near Cos Cob just before noon, causing more than hourlong delays on the New Haven line through the day. Regular service resumed by around 3 p.m., though Metro-North warned of delays, crowding and some train cancellations. 

Earlier, a track condition outside Amtrak's East River Tunnels stranded hundreds of riders on a stalled LIRR train for hours, forcing authorities to take one of the tunnels out of service and causing crippling delays and cancellations into New York Penn Station throughout the morning. 

Amtrak, which owns and maintains that stretch of track, described the problem as a "disabled commuter train" and "power issue" in one of the tunnels in a 7:20 a.m. tweet. The MTA initially said it was a track issue, then specified it was a problem with the third rail. By 8:30 a.m., 17 LIRR trains had been canceled or diverted to Atlantic Terminal or Hunterspoint Avenue. Trains that managed to make it into Penn Station were delayed by about 25 minutes.

It turns out the tipped or misaligned third rail had knocked the so-called "shoe" off the LIRR train. 

"It one shoe gets knocked off, it can cause a short circuit," said CUNY professor Robert Paaswell, who studies trains and transportations. "Just like your Christmas lights, if one goes out, they all go out." 

Chopper 4 over the scene showed the Manhattan-bound LIRR train stuck on the tracks, partially inside the tunnel. Emergency personnel and official vehicles surrounded it. A relief train eventually inched up and riders were seen transferring, but the disabled train remained stuck on the tracks as of 8 a.m. 

Authorities said about 500 people were on the stuck train. No one was hurt. 

A “track condition” outside Amtrak’s East River Tunnels stranded at least one Long Island Rail Road train for more than an hour, causing delays and cancellations into New York Penn Station during the peak of Thursday morning’s commute.

Arielle K. tweeted she had been on the stuck train and that they had "finally" been rescued shortly before 7:50 a.m., two hours after the 5:09 a.m. train out of Port Washington was due into Penn. She said the relief train was heading to Hunterspoint, but added, "Anyone know how to get to SoHo from here?"

Paaswell says the only way to ensure that the shoe continuously brings power from the third rail onto the train is to require frequent inspections. 

"You should have inspections once a day, but if you're in an area that's prone to trains being held up, you might want twice-a-day inspections," he said. 

It's not clear when Amtrak last inspected that part of the rail. Amtrak didn't respond to multiple calls for comment Thursday. 

The latest commute nightmare comes less than two weeks before Amtrak is set to begin overhauling the infrastructure at Penn Station following a series of derailments and breakdowns. 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Thursday declared a state of emergency for the MTA, ordering MTA Chairman Joe Lhota to come up with a reorganization plan in 30 days and a capital assessment in 60 days. He likened the recent transit problems to a "heart attack" that happened after years of cholesterol buildup. 

Both the LIRR and the Metro-North are run by the MTA. 

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Thursday's track condition wasn't the only issue for commuters. Hudson Bergen Light Rail service was suspended in both directions through Second Street because of an accident between a light rail train and a vehicle at New York Avenue, authorities said just before 8 a.m. The circumstances weren't clear, but service was restored within half an hour with lingering delays.

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