Penn Station was jammed and its doors shut on one of the year's busiest travel days due to rush-hour power and switching problems Wednesday in Amtrak's East River tunnels.
Starting about 5:20 p.m., riders trying to get home or to other Thanksgiving destinations were stranded all along the Long Island Rail Road. Amtrak and New Jersey Transit service were also affected.
The mass of people gathered outside the Seventh Avenue entrance to Penn Station -- closed to avoid overcrowding -- grumbled every time suspensions were announced over the public address system.
"Busiest travel day of the year and this happens?" said LIRR commuter Charles Krell, 40, of Port Washington. Krell, who endured a 4 1/2-hour wait after the railroad shut down because of the nor'easter that followed superstorm Sandy, decided to call a car service.
Full service to the LIRR and other transit systems resumed about 8 p.m., officials said.
An Amtrak spokeswoman said a commercial power outage crippled the compressors at Penn, disabling the track switches. Crews had to reroute the compressors to another power source.
Commuters did their best to take the latest commuter nightmare in stride.
"It's half expected and half disappointing," said David Sweet, a security manager from Freeport who was stuck for 1 1/2 hours. "I mean they boasted about how they put more trains on the tracks. Sometimes, even the best plans fall short."
"I thought it was a bomb scare," said Jillian Reilly, 21, of Farmingdale, who found herself stranded on a westbound Babylon train at 7 p.m. "When I heard what it really was I was calm, cool and collected, because it's happened before."
The Thanksgiving eve problems came on top of limited train service due to ongoing repairs in the flood-damaged East River tunnels. LIRR spokesman Salvatore Arena said the number of stranded riders was probably less than in usual afternoon rush hours due to the holiday. The LIRR ran extra trains earlier in the afternoon because it expected workers would leave early.
That was no relief for Valley Stream's Alecia Jones, who had to delay her Thanksgiving dinner preparations, including a 12-hour marinade of Spanish-style pork. One thing she couldn't fix was her plan to attend a holiday church service Wednesday night.
"Now I missed the service," said Jones, 40, a nurse manager, "and that's what Thanksgiving's really about."
With T.C. McCarthy
and Igor Kossov