New York

LIRR Nightmare: Power Problem Strands Trains in Tunnels, Delays Pile Up

Conductors were handing out water on one train after the power went out

What to Know

  • At least two Long Island Rail Road trains got stuck in the East River Tunnels Tuesday morning during rush hour
  • The agency blamed problems with the third rail and sent relief engines to rescue the stranded trains
  • Multiple commuters reported LIRR conductors were handing out emergency water supplies

Thousands of LIRR riders experienced crippling delays and cancellations on their way to New York's Penn Station Tuesday after a power problem in one of the East River tunnels stranded multiple trains and forced diversions, the MTA said.

The MTA first warned riders about the issue around 7:45 a.m., and the problem escalated rapidly as the height of the morning rush got underway. By 9 a.m. trains were running up to an hour late, and LIRR was explicitly blaming problems with Amtrak's already beleaguered infrastructure.  

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Amtrak, which also maintains and controls the third rail in the East River tunnels, said Tuesday afternoon a third rail component failed just outside one of the tubes, causing the hours of nightmarish delays. A root cause is under investigation. Amtrak also tweeted an apology for the delays at Penn, citing "track and equipment issues resulting in rail traffic congestion." 

Amtrak said the problem had been fixed by 3:30 p.m., and LIRR was on track for a regular evening rush hour. 

At least two trains got stuck in the tunnels during the morning rush, requiring relief engines to come rescue them, and multiple commuters reported that their conductors were handing out emergency water supplies. 

One train, the 6:13 a.m. from Massapequa Park due into Penn at 7:08 a.m., was stalled in one of the tunnels until a relief engine got the train in 76 minutes late. The 6:12 a.m. from Babylon -- due into Penn at 7:14 a.m. -- was stuck in the tunnel for more than an hour, at least. It had to be re-routed to Queens, and arrived at Hunterspoint Avenue three hours behind schedule. 

A woman on an LIRR train stalled because of the power issue told NBC 4 New York the lights went out at one point. She said a conductor passing out water to passengers told them the train ahead had hit the third rail. 

Riders said multiple trains were lined up in the Woodside section of Queens on one track waiting for tunnel access. Video showed them sitting on the tracks, not moving. Some were stuck outside the tunnels for more than an hour. 

Riders said multiple trains were lined up one track waiting for tunnel access after a power problem in one of the East River tunnels wrought havoc on LIRR commutes Tuesday.

By 11 a.m., westbound delays were up to 90 minutes -- on average. Trains were terminating at Jamaica station. Other trains were diverted to Hunterspoint or Atlantic Terminal. NYC Transit was cross-honoring LIRR tickets on the E, 7 and 2/3 subway lines, including at Forest Hills-71st Avenue. But an M train suspension between Forest Hills and Essex Street because of a train with mechanical problems didn't help matters. By noon, the LIRR was just reporting scattered system-wide delays; NYC Transit was no longer cross-honoring.

Tuesday's problems are the latest in a series of issues plaguing the aging Manhattan transit hub. Amtrak, which owns the station and leases the tracks to the MTA and NJ Transit, has said it plans to close several tracks for up to eight weeks this summer for infrastructure upgrades and other work. 

The area of the power problem is not part of the infrastructure slated for summer work.

NJ Transit service, already subject to daily delays of up to 30 minutes because of ongoing Amtrak track work, initially wasn't affected by the power problem, but said at 9 a.m. disabled LIRR trains were compounding delays.

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