The LIRR expected to have permanent repairs to its signals complete in time for this morning's commute, but said it may take longer to get to the bottom of why an aging electrical wire caused the critical system -- and its backup -- to fail as tens of thousands of riders headed to work Wednesday.
Long Island Rail Road president Patrick Nowakowski said Thursday that the culprit behind the Wednesday morning rush-hour meltdown was an "open line wire" strung up on a pole between the LIRR's Woodside station and its Harold Interlocking in Long Island City.
The wire was one of many feeding electricity to a signal "bungalow" that Nowakowski described as the "brains" of the busy Harold junction -- through which four railroads travel each day.
Nowakowski noted that some of those wires, including the one that went out Wednesday, "look pretty sick" and "probably are a hundred years old."
"We don't know exactly yet what was wrong with it. We're just going to go up there and replace the wire," said Nowakowski. He also cautioned that the LIRR won't be out of the woods even after the repair is made, adding, "It isn't the end of this, as far as I'm concerned."
Nowakowski said an investigation into the problem will focus on why a redundant electrical system did not kick in when the signal's primary power feed dropped out.
"When one line went out, the other shouldn't have. And they both went out," Nowakowski said. "I need to have somebody definitively explain to me why this fault caused both of them to fail."
Still, until the permanent fixes are complete, Nowakowski said he remains "confident" that the temporary repairs made Wednesday afternoon will hold up. The LIRR ran a normal schedule Thursday with no delays related to the signal problem.
Timour Sahfran, 47, of Great Neck, summed up his morning commute Thursday in one word.
"Uneventful," he said as he got to Penn Station.
On Wednesday, Sahfran called Uber from the train station when he found out his train was delayed for an hour. The car ride cost him $55, but he said it was worth every penny.
"You can't control everything. Accidents happen. Power goes out," he said. "You do a workaround."
Regardless of the circumstances, Nowakowski said the LIRR owed an apology to its customers, many of whom were delayed upward of two hours as the railroad suspended service into and out of Penn for about 90 minutes at the height of the Wednesday morning rush hour.
"They depend on us to take them to work," Nowakowski said. "They decide what train to take based upon what time we tell them that train is going to deliver them to Penn Station. And we didn't do it."
However, the railroad chief fended off criticism from some customers, and the LIRR Commuter Council, that the LIRR did not do enough to keep its customers in the loop throughout the ordeal. With the situation changing by the moment, Nowakowski said it was tough to provide riders with reliable answers.
"What most people want to know is, 'How long is it going to take me to get there?' " he said. "That definitive information is very difficult for me to give to people, because I don't know."
With Chau Lam