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A case of the Mondays: LIRR commuters vent

Westbound commuters wait for a train at the

Westbound commuters wait for a train at the Ronkonkoma station after a fire near Jamaica station created major delays, Monday. (Aug. 23, 2010) Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

Regular commuters, visitors from out of town and others were all swept up in Monday's Long Island Rail Road service outage. Here's how they made it through.

Ray Healey, 54, of Greenlawn, a salesman for Canon in Manhattan, spent more than two hours on a trip from Penn Station to Port Washington, where he waited for his wife to pick him up. In his 14 years of weekday commuting, this was the first time Healey recalled such widespread disruptions to LIRR service. "I don't ever recall a signal fire where they shut down every single line except for Port Washington," he said. Though the information on the MTA website was "limited," he said, the agency has improved in communicating problems to passengers. "I found out about it only through some associates at work," he said, noting that his commute into the city on the 6:23 a.m. from Greenlawn was undisturbed.

Brendan Greene, 38, of Lindenhurst, a porter at a Manhattan co-op, said "What the LIRR should've done is have buses from Jamaica to all the stations out here. [The problem] started at 11 o'clock. You can't get something together for four hours? That's poor organization." He was going to rent a car to drive home, but opted for the train ride to Port Washington to save money. "In this climate, who's got 100 extra bucks to get home quicker?"

Indra Rinerson, 55, of South Dakota, flew in from South Dakota Monday to visit a cousin in Bellmore and was stranded by the LIRR outage until a commuter offered to help. Eventually she decided to take the only working line to Port Washington and arranged for a ride to pick her up there. "[I] spoke to an official at the LIRR and they said Port Washington was our only bet," she said. "I'm only here until Thursday. . . . At least I'm going to get there tonight. Otherwise, I'd have had to stay in New York City."

Faye Coleman, 44, of Albany, was supposed to visit a Baldwin friend on her day off Monday, but instead spent much of her morning and afternoon on an arduous trek to Long Island. When she got off an Amtrak train at Penn Station, "I found out no other trains were coming except to here," she said. Lugging her suitcase along, Coleman traveled from Manhattan to the North Shore, only to wait for her friend to drive from Baldwin to pick her up. "It's frustrating, but at least we made it here."

Caitlin Denman, a photographer from Nashville, Tenn., who traveled to Long Island to shoot a wedding, waited more than three hours in the Ronkonkoma station for service to start back up, only to miss the first train to go out when service resumed. The only announcement that the train was going to Manhattan was yelled by a conductor at a train door. A recording saying service was suspended continued to play here Monday afternoon. "They weren't keeping everybody updated," she said. "They had no idea what was going on." She said she got more information about the delay from her mom. "She looked on Twitter. She knew more," said Denman of her mom, who was on her computer in Bowling Green, Ky. Denman missed a photo shoot in Manhattan because of the shutdown.

Commuter Dwayne Scott, a truck driver, had just returned from 10 days on the road and was planning to take a train back to his home in the Bronx when he confronted a suspended train yard. "I'm just glad it didn't happen on my way to work," said Scott, who started the job just three weeks ago. He and dozens of others remained stranded at the Ronkonkoma station, where a recorded message told of suspended service even at 2:50 p.m., despite reports that service had resumed.

John Eleazor of Stony Brook announced his strategy to willing listeners on the Ronkonkoma platform steps. It involved taking a county bus from Ronkonkoma to Sayville, another to Babylon, then a third bus to Jamaica. It's unclear how much it would cost, but Eleazor said he had to get to work. He's a hospital worker, with assignments at several metro area hospitals, he said. "It'll take me two and a half hours," he said as he ran to catch the bus. But it wasn't leaving for 15 minutes, and he was soon back at the ticket window, asking if service would be back up. Agents said, "There's nothing." He went back to the county bus line. "You gotta do what you gotta do," he said. "I'm a New Yorker. But it's a little inconvenient."

Rose Defalco of Ronkonkoma, who was at the station with a niece and nephew from Italy, was stranded inside, looking for answers. Few were forthcoming from the brief PA announcement. The relatives "really want to go," to the city, she said.

"I'm stranded on Long Island," Manhattan lawyer James Kimmel said into his cell phone as he paced the station. Kimmel said a dispatcher at a local cab stand was more helpful with travel advice than LIRR reps. "They said, 'There's no service. . . . I don't know anything more,' " Kimmel said of rail workers. The cab dispatcher told him a Hampton Jitney leaves from a stop nearby at the Long Island Expressway. Kimmel was considering it. "I'll give it another hour," he said.

John Accardo, 55, a salesman from Babylon, caught the 10:02 train from Babylon heading to Penn Station and was stuck on the train, just east of Jamaica Station, for 40 minutes. Then, he said, the train conductor drove to the St. Albans station, where Accardo said he and fellow passengers waited until about 2:30 p.m. "It's horrible," said Accardo. "The worst part is there is no communication. They kept repeating the same information."

Jimmy Apoo, 45, a steam fitter from Central Islip, was waiting at Jamaica Station to catch the 2:36 p.m. train home. He had been working since 7 a.m. In Manhattan, Apoo left work early for an appointment, which he said he wouldn't be able to make. "The lack of information is a little frustrating," Apoo said.

Dorothy Omorodion, 55, of Clinton Hills, caught the 10:35 a.m. train from Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, to Hempstead to visit her son. The train pulled into Jamaica station at around 11 a.m. and she waited for several hours but no train. She wished LIRR officials would have told her how long it would take to fix the problem so could have decided to wait or go home. "It's frustrating waiting because you don't know how long you're going to wait," Omorodion said.

Kelly Caldwell, of Palm Beach, Fla., had been waiting at the Mineola station with her family for nearly an hour when it became clear that no train would soon arrive. "Well, I'll be here as long as it takes," said the former Glen Cove resident who was on her way to Manhattan. "We're leaving tomorrow. My return to New York has not been the best," she added. "We went to the Jones Beach Theater last night and sat through torrential rain."

Jill Williams, 45, of Hempstead, said she was on her way into Manhattan, where she was to do staff development training. She had been at the Mineola Station only five minutes when she heard the announcement that service had been suspended. "I've got to get there," she said, looking around for her husband, Kevin, who had driven her to the station. He emerged from a coffee shop, and they spoke. "My husband said he'll drive me to the Jamaica Station," she said.

Wenjie Liao, of St. Paul, Minn., stood at the tracks in the Mineola Station, looking up and down them for about 30 minutes - and through five no-service announcements - before somebody told her trains had been suspended. "I'm here visiting my cousin, but was going into Manhattan to visit a friend," she said, adding that she would wait a little longer.

Larry Tarlow, 56, of Mineola, a gray-bearded musician, stood apart at a railing, seemingly relaxed, at the Mineola Station. "I'll be here until the train comes," he said. "I'm in no hurry. I saw online that the service had been suspended, but I came anyway. I called my friend and told him to go ahead and have lunch without me if he gets hungry."

Lindsay O'Connor, 26, of Garden City, a recent graduate of a culinary school, said she was on her way into Manhattan for a job interview as a pastry chef. She said she was at the station about half-an-hour, when she realized she could not make her appointment. "I had to reschedule," she said. "I was disappointed."

Megan Peoples, of Washington, D.C., and a student at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Va., said she had been at the station 20 minutes but would have "to call somebody to get a ride because my train is leaving for Washington in less than three hours."

Joy Lowery, of Brooklyn, was with her son, Jonathan, and said they were trying to get back home after a morning in court. "I'm not sure how we're going to get to Jamaica [station] now," she said. "I don't think it will be a cab."

Michelle Drametenos, 41, and her daughter Maria, 9, were waiting for a train to Manhasset and weren't aware of problem. "No trouble getting in, it was on time, on time." They had been visiting friends in the city.

Chris McNamara, 53, and his wife, Lori, met standing outside Track 21. Chris, a banker, said he learned of the trouble through an e-mail alert from LIRR. "It was excellent," he said of the e-mail alert system. "There is not much you can do, it happens twice a year, you deal with it. I have been commuting for 30 years."

Raven Jelks, 19, a dance student from Huntington, was driven in to Manhattan by her mother after learning of the train problems in the morning. "I'm going to Port Washington," where she said someone would pick her up.

Marcel Intrater, 72, a diamond broker, was mellow, and even with the problems, said the train was the best way to commute. "This is the cheapest way. . . . It is not that bad, the railroad, I love it."

Lisa Sasson of Hewlett, who teaches nutrition at NYU, said, "What is happening is not so clear," as she waited by the entry to Track 21 at Penn Station. Finally her cell phone rang and she spoke with her husband. She said to him "So, how do I get home? Jamaica What is the other one?" Putting down her phone she said, "He said he has to have someone pick me up."

Sterling Hurt, 45, a tour bus dispatcher trying to get to Westbury, seemed to take things in stride. "I am used to problems. It is a normal day for me. . . . It is to be expected in New York."

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