Frigid temperatures were likely the cause of about 10 cracks discovered on Long Island Rail Road tracks this week, officials said, leading to hours of delays over three straight days.
Officials suspended service on the railroad's Ronkonkoma Branch shortly after 8:30 a.m. Friday morning after finding a cracked rail between Central Islip and Brentwood, diverting hundreds of passengers to shuttle buses. Engineers fixed the section of damaged rail, and service was restored by 11:15 a.m. but delays stretched into the afternoon, affecting thousands.
A cracked rail east of Mineola slowed Thursday's evening rush hour on several lines. Cracked rails and signal trouble believed to be related to the cold delayed trains Wednesday morning.
Cracks in the steel rails can range from hairline fractures to full breaks and are often discovered by train engineers when they ride over them, LIRR spokesman Sal Arena said. Some occur every winter when cold weather makes the metal brittle, he said, just as kinks happen in the summer when heat causes the metal to expand.
He said there is little the LIRR can do to prevent either other than regularly inspecting its 700 miles of track, which it does at least once a week.
"The running rail we use is the industry standard," he said. "It's designed to function in cold weather and hot weather. . . . Cold weather is going to impact the running rail of any railroad."
Arena said that passengers were in no immediate danger this week. "We're not going to let the train run in circumstances where we don't think it's safe," he said.