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LIRR finds more wire damage; repairs set through weekend

Passengers wait for LIRR trains in Mineola Friday

Passengers wait for LIRR trains in Mineola Friday morning. (Aug. 27, 2010) Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

The Long Island Rail Road's efforts to restore its fire-damaged Jamaica switching system sustained a setback Thursday, as workers conducting tests discovered further wire damage, and railroad officials said repairs and extensive testing will continue at least through the weekend.

Railroad officials said it's too early to know whether cancellations and delays, which have caused daily headaches for riders since Monday, will continue into a second work week. The railroad said riders Friday will face the same number of cancellations as they did Thursday - 23 percent of morning rush trains and 35 percent of evening rush trains.

"We're continuing to make progress. But there are still literally hundreds of tests to conduct," LIRR spokesman Joe Calderone said. "As they're doing the testing, they are finding some additional wire damage in certain places. So that's necessitated them going in and doing the wire repairs. But that's the purpose of the testing - to make sure everything is safe and operational."

Each day since the electrical fire Monday morning knocked out the transit hub's antiquated switching system, the LIRR has canceled one-fourth of its morning rush-hour trains, and more in the evening.

Among the trains running Friday are those in the usual weekend Hamptons Reserve Service, including the Friday afternoon "premier express" train to Montauk, known as The Cannonball.

Calderone said the seasonal Hamptons trains are some of the busiest and most crowded in the railroad's schedule, and the LIRR intends to accommodate those customers.

On the average summer Friday, 5,042 people catch an eastbound Hamptons train. This weekend could see more than that, with the start, on Sunday, of The Hampton Classic Horse Show in Bridgehampton.

Some weekend trains will be delayed or canceled because of testing on the tracks at Jamaica, Calderone said.

Railroad officials again Thursday declined to say how much money the fire has cost them in overtime and lost revenue. Railroad spokesman Sal Arena said the LIRR still is tabulating those figures.

Officials Thursday also did not say how many employees have been working around the clock to fix the problem and maintain operations through the crisis. They include signalmen, engineers, and members of the power and transportation departments.

"When you're in a crisis, you have to be careful not to burn your workers out," Calderone said. "So people are working some shifts, getting some sleep and then coming back . . . This is a priority. Everything else is put aside during a crisis."

Meanwhile, riders continued to express frustration.

Kieran Beck, 57, of Malverne, said he and his wife went to the Valley Stream station at 7 a.m. and were told the next train to Manhattan would come at 7:11 a.m. It arrived at 7:40 a.m., he said.

"The train was packed," Beck said. "It was dangerously crowded by the time we got to Penn Station. No one's keeping an eye on how many people are cramming onto these trains."

Calderone said the railroad had not received any reports about dangerous crowding levels on trains from MTA Police, with whom they are in constant contact.

"Crowding hasn't become much of an issue," he said. "That's isn't to say that there aren't individual trains that are more crowded than they normally would be."

Jeff Mead, 30, of Bayport, called the service disruptions "disappointing," but said he will cope with them for his commute to Long Island University's Brooklyn campus, where he works in the administrative office.

"You just kind of roll with the punches and adjust your schedule as needed," he said. "As my girlfriend said, we got an iPad last week and it was perfect timing."

And he noted: "It's better than driving."

With Michael Amon and Pervaiz Shallwani

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