Another day, another rough commute for thousands of Long Island Rail Road riders.
Once again, 33 westbound trains were canceled for the morning rush, with the LIRR running 75 percent of its 144 trains.
LIRR spokesman Joe Calderone said riders should expect 66 percent of trains to be running for tonight's rush, with the 43 trains canceled the same as yesteday.
Long Island Rail Road workers Wednesday night finished replacing hundreds of wires damaged by an electrical fire, but officials warned of more commuting chaos Thursday and Friday as track signals and switches undergo safety tests.
"We're hopeful that we'll be done by the end of the week; that's our goal," Calderone said. "We're taking it day by day. We have crews working around the clock, and we're making progress."
The railroad will continue to run at 75 percent capacity in the morning and 66 percent in the evening until the testing is finished, Calderone said.
It cannot be gradually increased over time, he said, because trains are being routed using an old manual system called "block and spike," in which workers dedicate train lines to specific tracks using wooden blocks and metal spikes to lock the switches in place.
The nation's largest commuter railroad canceled more than a quarter of its rush hour trains Wednesday, officials said, causing more headaches for more than 120,000 commuters dealing with a third day of diminished rail service.
The fire started Monday at 11 a.m., apparently when two underground electrical cables touched and sent a power surge into a signal tower east of Jamaica station, officials said, citing a preliminary investigation. No one was injured, but the blaze destroyed part of a 97-year-old track switching system that directs train traffic through Jamaica, a crucial bottleneck where 10 of the railroad's 11 branches converge.
Wednesday night around 8 p.m., workers finished replacing the last of 200 tiny, spaghetti-like wires damaged in the fire, Calderone said. Earlier in the day, they replaced six relay boxes, small devices that indicate the position of track switches.
Late last night, workers began testing the new wires, one by one, on 77 switch points and 53 signals in the area east of Jamaica station, Calderone said.
At about 9 p.m. at Penn Station, the departures board showed trains on several lines would not run until midnight or later. Riders were directed to take a train to Jamaica and change there.
"We could encounter more problems as we do the testing," Calderone said. "If the safety tests show a problem, we could require more time."
Many commuters have resigned themselves to the scheduling changes as the reduced service has disrupted lives.
Lincoln Howell, 50, of Valley Stream, said he can no longer take the LIRR directly to Brooklyn and instead goes to Penn Station first before transferring to the subway. "It's been frustrating," he said. "I think all this should have been fixed and put to bed."
Kathy Fleuranvil, 31, of New Milford, N.J., a manager for the disabled support agency AHRC, was running late Wednesday morning for an important meeting as she waited in Jamaica for a train to Brooklyn's Atlantic Terminal.
"I am being transferred or promoted, so I need to be there today," she said. "I didn't think this would be such a mess. It's not going to be a nice impression."
She was an hour late for the meeting but still got the promotion. Her bosses understood. "It went fine," she said.
Merchants were affected, too. Several shopkeepers at Penn Station said they have lost money since the disruptions began on Monday.
"Yesterday, some people didn't come to work. Everybody lost business around here," said Frank Kerastos, 52, a manager at Drago Shoe Repair-Shoe Shine.
The track problems also could cost the LIRR millions in overtime, equipment and lost fares, experts said. LIRR officials declined to speculate on the cost, but William Henderson, executive director of the LIRR Commuter's Council, said the lost money could add up quickly for an already cash-strapped agency.
"It doesn't help. It's not a good thing," Henderson said, though he added the financial problems wouldn't be "a crippling blow by any means."
Number of riders affected
LIRR officials would not say, but overtime, equipment and revenue from lost fares could run into the hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars, experts said.
33 of 144 morning rush-hour trains; 43 of 127 evening rush-hour trains.