LIRR 'hopeful' morning commute returns to normal

Commuters react to disruptions as several trains were still canceled or diverted a day after Monday's LIRR derailment. Crews were working to repair damage caused Monday evening when two cars from a Hempstead-bound LIRR train derailed in an East River Access tunnel. Videojournalist: Chris Ware (June 18, 2013)

Long Island Rail Road officials said late Tuesday night they expect a "near-normal" commute this morning after round-the-clock repairs following Monday's train derailment.

Crews were to work overnight to finish repairs and test equipment in an effort to avoid a repeat of Tuesday's disruptions, officials said.

Late Tuesday night, after LIRR, Amtrak and other officials held a private conference call, a commuter rail spokesman said repairs were being made quickly, but he could not say how many trains would be affected Wednesday. The LIRR had canceled or diverted 34 morning rush-hour trains Tuesday and 21 evening rush-hour trains out of Penn Station.


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"Track, switch, signal and third-rail repairs inside the East River Tunnel where two cars of an LIRR train derailed on Monday evening are progressing rapidly," said LIRR spokesman Salvatore Arena. The LIRR plans to issue an updated morning schedule before 5 a.m. Wednesday, he said.

Two middle cars of a 10-car Hempstead train left the tracks in one of the four East River tunnels shortly after it departed Penn Station around 6 p.m. Monday. There were no injuries.

The LIRR, the Federal Railroad Administration and Amtrak, which owns and maintains the tunnel tracks, are investigating the cause of the derailment. A source close to the probe said repair crews were focusing on a track switch that appeared to be the point of the derailment.

Eight switches and 500 feet of track were damaged, but if repairs are completed, operations Wednesday could return to near normal, the LIRR said. "Either we get the tunnel back or we don't," said Joe Calderone, vice president for customer service.

Repair work was limited during Tuesday's evening rush, but the fixes resumed once the peak period ended.

Commuters generally took the cancellations in stride.

Denise Sullivan, 46, of East Islip, said she was pleasantly surprised that her commute home would not be delayed like her morning commute was. "They seem to be OK," Sullivan said of train operations. "I have to give them [LIRR] credit this time."

Aaron Alpert, 66, of Port Washington, said that while his train was delayed a few minutes, it didn't create problems. "It doesn't happen very often, so it's fine," he said of the derailment.

Clifford Cole, spokesman for Amtrak, which is conducting the repair work, said the agency had no estimate for when the work would be finished, but is "keeping Long Island Rail Road apprised of our progress."

The derailment was the LIRR's second in three months and the third for a Metropolitan Transportation Authority commuter railroad in that time. Earlier this month, three LIRR work trains collided near Hicksville.

"While we are grateful that there were no injuries from Tuesday night's LIRR derailment . . . the resulting 'Monday madness' at Penn Station was only the latest in a string of service disruptions," the LIRR Commuter Council said in a statement.

Michael Quinn, general chairman of Division 269 of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, which represents LIRR engineers, said he had no specific information on how the derailment occurred, but said that when middle cars of a train derail, it usually indicates a "track condition or an equipment defect."

Passengers in the rear train cars were guided onto the tracks once electricity was turned off, and back to Penn Station, while others had to wait more than two hours for a New Jersey Transit train to pull up in front and bring the passengers on board.

Calderone said the LIRR followed its standard evacuation plans, and that the customers in the front six cars could not be evacuated onto the tracks because the train was blocking their path back to Penn Station.

"Of course nobody wants to be on a train for two hours, but it's better to be on a train and be safe," Calderone said.

Robert Hirasawa, 32, was on the derailed train and said the train's crew was "great" and kept passengers informed with updates every 10 minutes and provided passengers with water.

Anthony Simon, general chairman of the United Transportation Union, said he was proud of the crew's "outstanding job."

Hirasawa, an attorney from Forest Hills, said Tuesday's morning commute was crowded, but he was thankful that things weren't worse.

"It's inconvenient, but we're glad that there were no injuries or anything like that," he said.

With Amanda Cedrone

and Ellen Yan

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@Newsday

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