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Hundreds evacuated after LIRR train derails

An Eastbound LIRR train that officials say "probably

An Eastbound LIRR train that officials say "probably derailed" just after leaving the Penn Station platform on track 14 rests as it is looked over by officials. (June 17, 2013) Credit: Craig Ruttle

A 10-car LIRR train derailed in a tunnel as it was leaving Penn Station during Monday night's rush hour, trapping 800 riders and causing delays on every train line, LIRR officials said.

Morning commuters will likely face train cancellations and delays, LIRR spokeswoman Marjorie Anders said, adding that the extent of the impact on rush hour was not known. The tunnel was expected to remain shut down Tuesday, authorities said, but Amtrak crews were working overnight to haul away the cars, then examine the damage to the rails and switches.

Some commuters were trapped in rail cars for more than two hours before they were evacuated, LIRR officials said, but there were no injuries on the Hempstead-bound train after two of the cars jumped the tracks just after 6 p.m.

"It was like a very strong earthquake," said Christian Yungwirth, 32, who was trying to get home to Floral Park. "People were screaming. Trains were rocking back and forth."

Riders in the rear four cars were able to walk back to Penn Station after workers shut off electricity on the tracks, Anders said, but there was too much damage between the sixth and seventh cars for those in the first six cars to walk through.

Just before 7:45 p.m., a New Jersey Transit train arrived from the Sunnyside yard in Queens and was placed nose-to-nose with the damaged train, allowing stranded riders to walk into the working train, she said.

"It's single file," Anders said Monday night, adding that the evacuation took about a half-hour and passengers were taken back to Penn Station. "It's not a speedy process."

The train had left Penn Station at 5:51 p.m. and was supposed to arrive in Hempstead at 6:46 p.m., but jumped off the tracks as it entered one of the four East River tunnels, officials said.

At least 12 LIRR trains were canceled and service west of Jamaica was temporarily suspended, the LIRR said.

On board the damaged train, Michael Battista, 27, of Stewart Manor, said an announcement told stranded riders there had been an "equipment malfunction." Emergency responders brought step ladders to the car door, and people walked down the ladder onto the tracks, then up some stairs to Penn Station's platform.

"I wasn't scared at any point," he said.

Yungwirth said he was in a train car with dozens of passengers when he felt vibrations that intensified over 20 seconds until the cars rattled hard.

The train was picking up speed when it derailed, and cars tilted at a 30-degree angle toward the tunnel walls, Yungwirth said.

No one appeared to be hurt in his car, even though packages and briefcases tumbled about, he said. Passengers in his car were trapped inside for 40 minutes before they were rescued, Yungwirth said.

"The doors were skewed," Yungwirth said. "You could barely get out."

But slowly and without panic, passengers climbed out and walked about 25 feet along the tracks in the dark tunnel back toward the Penn Station platforms, he said.

"It was eerily quiet on the tracks because there were no trains coming in or out," he said.

Entry into Penn Station was barred for more than two hours at the doors to the LIRR area. Commuters streamed out, and some snapped at each other, unable to find a way home or to hop onto a subway car that wasn't full.

Sharon Wells, 31, who was on her way to Long Island, said she was just going to delay her commute and get dinner with a friend in Manhattan.

"We're not going anywhere, so why not?" she said. "I'd rather not be just standing around wasting time."

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and Tim Herrera

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