New York

Commuters, March Madness Fans Face Travel Nightmare After Amtrak Derailment Wreaks Havoc at Penn Station

No serious injuries were reported in Friday's Amtrak derailment, but it brought New York Penn Station to a standstill

What to Know

  • No serious injuries were reported, but passengers described hearing what sounded like an "explosion," followed by bright sparks
  • Windows at the back two cars of the NJ Transit train were punched in or smashed, passengers said
  • NJ Transit halted service in and out of Penn Station for most of the day and Amtrak advised riders to expect delays; LIRR wasn't affected

Amtrak and New Jersey Transit riders started their weekend with a nightmarish evening commute following Friday's havoc-wreaking Acela derailment at New York's Penn Station, with commuters seen sprinting to make limited train services and strangers in Newark connecting to share rides into New York.

All evening, Penn Station heaved with hundreds of delayed commuters trapped for hours hearing the same automated message over and over: "We apologize for any inconvenience." 

On Friday evening NJT said a majority of trains on the Northeast Corridor and North Jersey Coast Lines would be operating as scheduled, except for a couple of trains trains traveling into New York. The Long Island Railroad was operating at 50 percent capacity during the evening rush. More details here.

However with some trains running, others canceled and the departures board was changing by the second, commuters like Scott Klimchak said they didn't know what train they were going to get on.

"I have no idea when I'm going to get home. Hopefully soon," he said.

Witnesses described the station swelling with people waiting and then quickly emptying as commuters saw their train arriving and sprinted for a seat. 

At Penn Newark, people packed onto NJT trains like sardines, not knowing when the next one would be. Some commuters were finding novel ways to get into the city, with strangers banding together to share Uber rides into New York. Ann Krauss was one of four women who had connected to order a ride, and was unimpressed with the lack of train service.

"Amtrak, this is the second time this week it's totally broken down," she said.

NJ Transit scrambled to implement a plan for service restoration Friday evening after one of its Montclair/Boonton line trains was sideswiped by an Acela that had a minor derailment near Penn's north tube as it departed for Washington, D.C.

Amtrak said Northeast Regional and Acela Express service would run between Newark and New York, but warned of anticipated heavy delays between the throngs of commuters eager to get home and the crush of people trying to get into the city and home again for Friday night's Sweet 16 action at Madison Square Garden. 

By 10 p.m. cancellations on the Penn Station departures board had decreased, just hours ahead of thousands of people rushing the station post the NCAA tournament. 

More than 20 Long Island Railroad trains from New York were also cancelled, with the MTA telling commuters to use different stations.

Not sure of travel alternatives? We've got your transit guide here.

PATH was cross-honoring tickets for both Amtrak and NJ Transit riders, but photos showed jam-packed cars and mobbed platforms.

No one was injured in the 9 a.m. accident, which smashed windows of the back two cars of the NJ Transit train that was hit. Parts of the train's exterior were also damaged, photos from the scene showed.  

The Federal Railroad Administration is investigating. 

Jordan Geary was sitting next to his wife on NJ Transit train 6214 when he says he heard a loud "explosion" next to his head. Some windows popped out and some shattered, Geary said, adding, "Thankfully everyone is okay."

The MTA said Long Island Rail Road customers should expect delays and some cancellations Friday afternoon.

At about 4 p.m. MTA said four of the nine Penn Station tracks used by the LIRR for the evening rush hour were not available for use as a result of the derailment. Its service capacity from Penn was reduced by almost 50 percent during Friday's evening peak.

The LIRR would provide normal PM peak service from Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn and Hunterspoint Avenue.

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