Cuomo: LIRR's Babylon, Huntington lines to run Friday
Commuters returned to the Long Island Rail Road Thursday and two more lines will open with service to Penn Station Friday.
The Babylon and Huntington lines will open Friday morning with hourly service, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced Thursday night.
"The progress is happening literally on an hourly basis and is amazingly advanced for what we anticipated," Cuomo said about the restoration of public transit operations after superstorm Sandy shut systems down.
The railroad took its first steps toward service on Long Island with hourly service Thursday between Ronkonkoma and Penn Station, Great Neck and Penn Station, and Jamaica and Atlantic Terminal. Fares have been waived through Friday.
The LIRR Thursday carried about 10,000 people into Penn Station between 6 and 10 a.m. -- just 12 percent of its typical morning commuter ridership.
Even crowded, skeletal service Thursday was an attractive alternative to the gridlocked roads into and out of New York City.
"It feels good," said Fernando Henriquez of Port Washington as he waited at the busy Great Neck station for a Manhattan-bound train. "After all that happened, it feels good that we are back in business."
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority suspended service on all 11 LIRR lines, city subways and Metro-North Railroad on Sunday in advance of superstorm Sandy, which hit the metropolitan area Monday night.
The storm dropped more than 140 trees on LIRR tracks, took down signal lines, and knocked out power to electrified third rails, communications systems, and crossing gates.
Railroad officials have said the agency is focusing its efforts on restoring some service to its busiest lines -- Port Washington, Ronkonkoma, Babylon and Huntington. Other branches, including the devastated Long Beach line, could take longer to recover.
Officials asked customers for their cooperation during the work toward restoring service, urging them to stagger their trips to minimize crowding.
"We did have some trains that were standing room, but from what I've heard, we didn't leave anybody behind that wanted to get on a train," LIRR Customer Service Vice President Joe Calderone said Thursday.
"It was better than usual, actually," Kimani Rabess, 31, of Central Islip, said of her ride from Ronkonkoma to her real estate job in Manhattan. "I think people don't have electricity, so they didn't know."
Other transit agencies also began returning to normal service after being knocked down by Sandy. Nassau's NICE Bus system was running about 98 percent of its buses, with three routes still out Thursday because of unsafe road conditions, officials said. NICE also is not charging fares through Friday.
Suffolk County Transit Thursday ran its first buses since Thursday. Suffolk Department of Public Works Commissioner Gilbert Anderson said riders could expect to encounter some delays as buses navigate some roads without traffic signals.
Anderson said that among the buses back up and running Thursday was a Suffolk-to-Manhattan shuttle bus that carried just one passenger.
"By the time it got into the city, he found out his office was closed," Anderson said. "So we drove him all the way back."
Commuters who tried to drive into the city found traffic jams on the Long Island Expressway stretched all the way to the Cross Island Parkway at the Nassau-Queens border. Those attempting to cross the RFK-Triborough Bridge found traffic was snarled on the Grand Central back to at least Citi Field.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg had banned vehicles with fewer than three people from crossing all East River Bridges into Manhattan. The restriction was erroneously put in place yesterday morning on the George Washington Bridge, further slowing traffic.
The ban into Manhattan, similar to the HOV restrictions for the 1999 transit strike and then after Sept., 11, 2001, and in place for other emergencies, was announced Wednesday.
Some Long Islanders without electricity said they had no idea the ban was in effect -- or what restrictions were being enforced -- until they were caught in traffic jams.
"You have to count on things being like this," Steve Phillips, an Otis Elevator repairman, said as he and a co-worker stood on the Long Island Rail Road platform in Ronkonkoma -- waiting for a train after calling off their morning drive to the city.
With SCOTT EIDLER and MACKENZIE ISSLER