A file photo of a train arriving at the LIRR's...

A file photo of a train arriving at the LIRR's Port Washington. (Sept. 13, 2010) Credit: Audrey C. Tiernan

Despite criticism from riders and at least one state official, LIRR president Helena Williams said Friday the railroad marshaled an extraordinary effort to restore service quickly after Thursday's violent storm felled more than 20 trees onto tracks, causing major service suspensions and hours of waits for customers.

"I think we rebounded as quickly as we could, given the damage the system sustained," Williams said in an interview Friday, several hours after full service was restored on all 11 Long Island Rail Road lines toward the end of Friday's morning-rush period.

The fierce storm battered service on the nation's busiest commuter railroad during Thursday's evening rush, and service between Penn Station and Jamaica Station was halted for more than five hours. The Port Washington branch, which does not go through Jamaica, also took a heavy hit: Trains were out of commission through the night and a good portion of Friday's morning-rush period.

Some commuters adamantly disagreed with Williams' assessment of the rebound.

At Jamaica station on Friday morning, Barbara Matthews, an attorney who works on the East Side in midtown Manhattan, was yelling at the workers in the ticket booth after trains were delayed to Long Island City. On Thursday night, she sat on a train for four hours, not getting home to St. James until 1 a.m. Friday.

"There's nobody who cares," Matthews said. "This is not a way to run a business. This is a disgrace."

LIRR officials Friday took stock of the damage and response. Between the Main Street station in Flushing and Port Washington alone, 14 trees were completely down across tracks, and tree limbs blocked trains' paths in 15 other locations, they said. Another eight downed trees blocked tracks near Woodside.

At several other locations, utility poles were snapped, communications cables were down and tangled in tree limbs, and cross arms were broken. At Willets Point, the portion of a station canopy ripped off and injured a customer. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority did not have more information on that incident.

"I had never seen it this bad," said MTA Police Officer Gregg Cella, who said he had to drive the wrong way in traffic, clear downed trees and cut through a fence just to get to the railroad tracks. "We worked tirelessly to find nearly every problem we could."

Crews from the MTA Police, LIRR and Metro-North Rail Road, armed with chain saws, fought through snarled traffic to get to LIRR tracks. Once they were done clearing one tree, they would discover another one blocking another portion of tracks. And another.

"That's five hours to clear out tangled communications cables, downed trees, make sure the signal system is working, make sure everything is clear, run tests trains and get customers moving," Williams said of the LIRR. "In a storm that's that devastating, I think that's not that bad."

State Sen. Craig Johnson (D-Port Washington), who sits on the MTA Capital Program Oversight Committee, was unsparing in his criticism, scoring the transit agency for service cuts and proposed fare hikes and saying it was "caught seemingly unprepared to deal with this situation."

Maureen Michaels, chairwoman of the LIRR Commuter Council, said while riders realized the LIRR was not to blame for Thursday's wild weather, the latest commuting nightmare came at a time when many have lost faith in the railroad. "I think commuters are extremely fatigued," she said. "The goal of the MTA is to deliver safe, convenient, comfortable and affordable service. Affordability is coming under question. Comfort is definitely a question. And the convenience of it is being challenged by all of these events."

In a statement on its website Friday, the LIRR apologized "for the delays and inconvenience caused by this severe storm."

"The LIRR restored service as quickly as we could while keeping the safety of our customers and employees as our No. 1 priority," the statement said.


A tough month for LIRR riders



  • Aug. 23: An electrical fire in a 98-year-old tower knocks out the switching system at Jamaica station, causing service disruptions on 10 of 11 LIRR lines for almost a full week.



  • Sept. 2: Anticipating heavy winds from advancing Hurricane Earl over the Labor Day holiday weekend, the LIRR suspends service in eastern Suffolk County from Thursday night through Saturday morning.



  • Sept. 10: The first 24 of 72 LIRR layoffs take place - the first LIRR layoffs in a quarter-century.



  • Monday: Service cuts take effect, including cancellation of some morning-rush and evening-rush trains, elimination of overnight service to Brooklyn, and reduction of off-peak service on the Port Washington Branch from half-hourly to hourly.



  • Thursday: Hundreds of Long Island commuters sound off on proposed LIRR fare hikes at a Garden City public hearing.



  • Thursday: A powerful storm during the evening rush causes the LIRR to suspend service between Penn Station and Jamaica station and on the Port Washington Branch for more than five hours.



  • Friday: Weekend service on the West Hempstead Branch is eliminated, affecting 350 customers.


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