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From the archives: For riders, 'the longest wait'

This story was originally published in Newsday on Dec. 9, 1993.

As the 5:33 train carrying Colin Ferguson ground to an emergency stop at the Merillon Avenue station, passengers trying to save their own lives turned to the doors as their hope of escape.

But the doors stayed closed.

It's unclear how long it took for the doors of the third car to open, after a Long Island Rail Road conductor had to climb out a window and do it by hand, according to the LIRR.

Survivors' accounts differ on whether the gunman who killed five people was still firing his weapon after the train stopped. If he was, the situation could have contributed to the toll of casualties. If not, it merely meant a few more moments of absolute terror.

"That is a serious point," said LIRR spokesman Brian Dolan, who said the railroad was still trying to construct an exact timeline of events. "We don't know what the answer will be."

In any case, said an LIRR statement, the crew members should be commended for their "professional manner under extremely strenuous and stressful conditions."

Witnesses just knew they wanted the doors open - immediately.

"That was the longest wait that I can remember - for those doors to open," said Carl Petersen of Garden City.

"I was trying to get out of the train doors, and it wouldn't open," said Paul Bastile of Garden City. "A man was shot next to me. I grabbed this guy. I don't know how I got him off the train."

The delay came, according to LIRR officials, because the train engineer stopped the train as soon as a rider banged on his door and said there were shots being fired.

The 12-car train stopped short of its normal position on the 10-car platform, which meant the doors of the last two cars would have opened short of the platform. Normally the first two cars overshoot the platform and their doors are kept shut.

The engineer then made an announcement to the rest of the crew, audible to passengers: Don't open the doors.

Meanwhile, according to the LIRR, the train's conductor was pinned inside his compartment in the third car by passengers struggling to escape the gunman.

The conductor instead climbed out the window to get to the platform and assess the situation, the LIRR said.

From there, he opened each set of doors manually. Doors on the other cars were opened manually by the assistant conductor and the two ticket collectors.

LIRR officials said the members of the crew acted properly given the situation. Dolan said the engineer acted quick-wittedly in stopping the train immediately, especially because stopping the train in its normal position would have put the first two cars on an overpass, stranding the passengers there.

Dolan said the crew members, whom he would not identify, were traumatized by the events.

"The crew is distraught," Dolan said. "It's important they have our support."

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