LIRR: Long Beach line repair will take time
Track bedding washed away. Delicate electrical components covered in rust. Critical track switches mucked up with sewage and seaweed.
It could be a while before the Long Island Rail Road's Long Beach line is back to normal.
"Wow. This is big," LIRR president Helena Williams said Friday as she toured the devastated line, used by 20,000 people each weekday.
Even as the LIRR struggles to bring back as much service as it can in the wake of superstorm Sandy, which downed trees on tracks and knocked out power to most of the system, officials said it will be a much longer haul to bring back the Long Beach branch, which suffered the worst damage of the system.
Williams called it "a total disaster" for the LIRR, as it is for the people of Long Beach.
"We know that this is a community that's suffering right now and we're going to do everything to restore service as quickly as possible," Williams said.
Long Beach Station and its accompanying rail yard -- located blocks from the Atlantic Ocean -- suffered extensive flooding during the storm. Sheds housing critical electrical components for the line filled with water 4 feet high.
Four electrical substations that provide power along the line are all down. And sewage from an adjacent waste treatment plant has fouled up much of the LIRR's infrastructure.
And as bad as things look now along the line, they were even worse Tuesday, the day after the storm, when crews worked to remove 20 water craft off the tracks. One boat even washed up at the Island Park Station parking lot, still attached to its dock.
On Friday, crews painstakingly continued the work of putting the line back together -- using steel brushes to scrub new rust off tiny electrical switches and drying out facilities. A baby blanket sopped up swampy water from the floor of one electrical shed.
LIRR officials said that while getting the Long Beach line back to pre-storm condition will be a long-term effort, some service could resume once electricity is restored, the signal system is operational and tracks are intact. They would not predict when that would be.
"We have done an awful lot in three days," said LIRR chief engineer Kevin Tomlinson, who predicted it would be "several days" before the railroad even has an assessment of all the damage done to the branch. "I have confidence we'll come back," Williams said. "And Long Beach will come back."