New Jersey

NJ Brush Fires Lead to Commuter Chaos for NJ Transit, Amtrak Riders During PM Rush Hour

Amtrak trains in and out of New York City were suspended due to the fires; NJ Transit also issued notice informing passengers that Northeast Corridor Line rail service was temporarily suspended, but has since returned with limited service

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Multiple brush fires erupted in New Jersey Wednesday afternoon causing major headaches for Amtrak and NJ Transit riders coming into and out of New York City, as several lines suspended service for hours as a result of the flames and smoke.

A brush fire in Edison appeared to be precariously close to vehicles and train tracks. A Middlesex County official said the flames were started by sparks coming from a freight train. Footage from Chopper 4 showed firefighters battling flames stretching a couple hundred yards just a matter of feet from the railroad tracks. Most of the fire was put out before 5:30 p.m., but the risk of flare-ups remained for the night.

Meanwhile, another fire broke out in Matawan, consuming old railroad tracks near Park Avenue and Orchard Street, according to the state's forest fire service. The flames engulfed an old railroad trestle in a wooded area, according to officials and footage from Chopper 4, and was mostly extinguished by 5 p.m., with firefighters putting out hotspots throughout the night.

The fires forced Amtrak to suspend all service between NYC's Penn Station and Philadelphia just before 5 p.m., freezing all service in Central Jersey. Service remained suspended through 6 p.m., and multiple trains were either canceled or had their final destinations altered.

Trains finally started moving once again after 7 p.m., albeit at "restricted speeds" after hours of delays. Operations were said to return to normal in the area after 8 p.m., though with trains dealing with hours of delays.

As for NJ Transit, Northeast Corridor Line rail service was suspended for a short while but resumed with limited service between NY-Penn Station and Metropark after 5 p.m. It didn't fully resume until after 8 p.m., though with significant delays in both directions between NY-Penn Station and Trenton.

The transit agency suggested those traveling to stations between Metuchen and Trenton to look for other transportation options, adding that they could use North Jersey Coast Line service between New York and Rahway.

Morris and Essex, Montclair Boonton (Mid-town Direct) and North Jersey Coast Line continue to operate, according to NJ Transit. Rail tickets and passes are being cross-honored by PATH at Newark Penn Station and 33rd Street, the agency said.

NBC New York confirmed that Conrail owned the freight trains that threw sparks, triggering the brush fires near Edison. It was a regularly scheduled freight train heading between Metuchen to New Brunswick that was carrying construction and demolition debris.

The 13-car Conrail train was being pulled by a diesel locomotive (not using the overhead catenary system that powers Amtrak and NJ Transit trains on the NEC). The car immediately behind the locomotive caught what the company called a "hot carbon spark" from the exhaust stack.

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