Metro-North service at Grand Central restored after blast

Officials say a number of people were unaccounted for after a gas leak caused an explosion that reduced two buildings in East Harlem to rubble, killing at least two people and injuring others on March 12, 2014. (Credit: Newsday / Chris Ware, News 12 Long Island)

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A deadly building explosion Wednesday in East Harlem spewed debris on nearby Metro-North Railroad tracks, forcing the shutdown of its service into and out of Grand Central Terminal, one of the nation's busiest train stations.

Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials said they expected a normal commute Thursday morning on Metro-North. But they cautioned there was a possibility of continuing slow-speed orders through the blast area at Park Avenue and 116th Street.

All service was halted much of Wednesday into and out of Grand Central after the morning explosion destroyed two buildings, littering four tracks on the Harlem line across the street with debris. Full service was resumed just before 5 p.m. after Metro-North crews cleared the debris from the tracks, which were inspected for third-rail integrity and approved for operations by Metro-North and the Fire Department, railroad officials said.

Metro-North crews used construction equipment, including a crane capable of lifting 1,200 pounds, and a large trash bin to remove debris.

After full service resumed, Metro-North officials advised customers to continue to expect some crowding and delays, and for trains to reduce speeds through the Harlem neighborhood "to protect nearby railroad workers and to limit vibrations at the explosion site."

Before Metro-North crews cleared rubble scattered on two of the four tracks of the Harlem line at Park and 116th Street, scores of train riders scrambled to complete their trips using the subway system, which was cross-honoring railroad fares Wednesday.

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Customers walked from some subway stops in the Bronx to nearby Metro-North stations, including Woodlawn and Yankees-East 153rd Street, to complete their trips.

Railroad spokesman Aaron Donovan said that earlier in the day the agency had control only of two of the four tracks near the explosion because Fire Department and police investigators used the other two tracks closer to the blast, in part, to view the rubble from an elevated vantage point.

In total, Metro-North carried 83.4 million passengers last year, virtually tying the Long Island Rail Road as the busiest U.S. commuter rail carrier. About 82 million passengers each year travel through Grand Central, Metro-North's lone Manhattan terminal.

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