The Long Island Rail Road's third broken rail in a week caused major delays and cancellations for morning commuters Tuesday.
A section of rail broke around 2 a.m. just west of Carle Place. Crews replaced the broken rail during the morning, but not before 12 trains were canceled and 82 of the LIRR's 1,444 morning rush trains were delayed -- some by as much as 40 minutes.
The disruptions came just a day after a broken rail in Port Washington caused service to be suspended on the entire Port Washington line on Monday.
And last Wednesday, a broken rail near the East New York Station caused delays and cancellations.
LIRR customer service vice president Joe Calderone said the three separate broken rail incidents are all under investigation and "don't appear to be related to each other."
Dave Rangel, founder of the Modoc Railroad Academy in Marion, Ill., said broken rails are a "tremendous nemesis" to all railroads.
The breaks typically come during cold temperatures and are the result of molecular changes in the steel. In the summer steel expands and warps. And in the winter it contracts -- causing it to snap.
Rangel said the steel can be especially vulnerable during "wild swings" over the course of hours. Fractures can occur at bolts or joints, or the rail itself can snap -- sometimes violently so, Rangel said.
The LIRR routinely checks for rail irregularities, both with a special rail car that uses ultrasonic equipment to inspect rails internally, and with "rail walkers" who visually inspect more than 500 miles of track each year. Repairs are made as soon as a problem is found.
The LIRR also spends $70 million each year renewing and replacing old track, officials said.
Still, Rangel said, fractures are unavoidable and can happen even on brand-new sections of rail.
"You just can't get rid of the fact that the metal is expanding and contracting constantly," Rangel said. "We're having, as an industry, a constant battle against this, because there are laws of physics that you just can't overcome."
A broken rail can have dangerous repercussions. According to the Federal Railroad Administration, broken rails were the cause of 197 out of 1,240 train derailments in the United States last year.
The LIRR is still investigating the cause of a March 18 derailment near Forest Hills that caused five days of service disruptions. There were no injuries.
With John Valenti