Long Island Rail Road riders who tried to take one of the five extra trains added to the Montauk branch schedule July Fourth may have thought it was April Fools' Day instead.
The railroad told customers Friday that because of "a timetable error," only one of the five westbound trains actually ran. Bus service was substituted for three trains while riders for a Montauk train had to wait two hours for the next regularly scheduled run.
While the phantom trains immediately spurred comment and queries, the railroad did not respond until Friday, offering a general explanation and an apology on its Web site.
"We made a mistake," LIRR spokesman Joe Calderone said. "We apologized to our customers. We put in place protocols to try to guard against this happening in the future." The railroad believes that fewer than 500 riders were affected.
Calderone said the error was the addition of the trains to the schedule because the railroad never intended to run them. Instead, it planned to operate on a normal Saturday schedule, rather than a holiday schedule, which has a greater number of trains. The rationale was that most people would be traveling east on Friday and not coming home on Saturday of a holiday weekend.
"In fact, Friday was the heavier day," he said.
Peter Haynes of Bayport, president of the LIRR Commuters Campaign, said: "I've seen a lot of bizarre things on the Long Island Rail Road and this jumps to the top of the list. It really boggles the mind."