A file photo of a train at the Mineola LIRR...

A file photo of a train at the Mineola LIRR train station. (March 4, 2011) Credit: Craig Ruttle

Long Island Rail Road rush-hour trains were delayed Monday night after smoke from a fire in trackside debris in an East River tunnel caused slowdowns out of Penn Station on all 11 branches, officials said.

Marjorie Anders, a spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, said that at 6:30 p.m. the fire department checked the tunnel and gave the all-clear, lifting the hold on the trains.

In all, she said, 10 trains were canceled and 40 were delayed.

A "debris fire alongside the track" was the cause of the smoke, Amtrak spokeswoman Renee Graham said. Amtrak owns the four East River tunnels that the LIRR uses.

Delays and cancellations began about 5 p.m. when smoke filled one of the four tunnels and caused the cancellations, leading to evening-rush delays of at least 10 to 15 minutes.

Anders said officials began sending one train for every two or so trains on each line through one remaining tunnel, which spread the inconvenience across all train lines, but still allowed the commute to continue with delays.

MTA officials sent electronic alerts to customers and posted updates on the MTA's website.

The mishap comes soon after Amtrak began a major rehabilitation of the tunnels in early October. Work is taking place in one tunnel at a time on weekends. The affected tunnel Monday night was not the one that was undergoing work over the weekend, officials said.

Troubles in the East River tunnels have been the source of logistical headaches for Long Islanders in recent months. Recently, drainage problems and the derailment of an Amtrak train caused major disruptions for some of the LIRR's 225,000 weekday riders.

But Monday night, riders, many dressed for Halloween, seemed relatively unfazed.

Jay Henriquez, 24, of Mineola, in a Street Fighter costume, said he experienced a seven-minute delay on the way into Penn. "For seven minutes we were mad, but the rest of the time we were OK," he said. "Seven minutes isn't a long delay, but they gave us no warning at all and didn't tell us what it was about."

Roberto Valverde, 26, of Mineola, and Rebecca Kaye, 23, of Mineola, who had their faces painted to resemble skeletons, were on the same train.

"Seven minutes is not bad, but luckily we came straight here and didn't have a connection," he said. "Other people could have missed their connections."

With Kery Murakami

and Shawniquica Henry

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