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LIRR vows to develop plan to avoid disabled train incident

Stranded passengers call for help through a window

Stranded passengers call for help through a window from a stalled LIRR car Sunday morning. More than 100 passengers were stuck for hours without heat beginning at about 5 a.m. just east of the Wyandanch train station. (Dec. 20, 2009) Photo Credit: News12

The Long Island Rail Road's president Monday apologized to the 150 passengers stranded on a disabled Sunday morning train for more than three hours and vowed to develop a new plan "that better protects" customers.

Helena Williams said the LIRR has launched a "full scale review of the circumstance" that caused the passengers on the 2:54 a.m. Ronkonkoma-bound train from Penn Station to not arrive at their destination until nearly 9 a.m. Williams said that although the train crews struggled through "extremely difficult blizzard conditions," more could have been done.

>> MORE: Read what some of the stranded passengers had to say

>> VIDEO: Passengers trapped on LIRR train during blizzard

"The customers onboard were greatly inconvenienced and the LIRR apologizes for the experience they encountered," Williams said. "We must do better."

LIRR officials Monday offered new details of the hellish incident, which they said was complicated by massive snow drifts, frozen track switches and iced over train couplers.

Passengers originally boarded an electric train in Penn Station, but were transferred to a diesel train at Jamaica because the diesels typically perform better during snowstorms. At Farmingdale, another 50 passengers boarded after their original train was taken out of service.

The locomotive broke down just east of the Wyandanch station. After briefly taking some preliminary measures to try to restart the train, a conductor on the train's crew of three contacted the LIRR's movement bureau at Jamaica Station to report the breakdown.

The bureau immediately contacted a train dispatcher to hold trains traveling toward the disabled locomotive. Because the train broke down in a single-track stretch of the system, it would have been impossible to route trains around it.

The bureau also quickly dispatched a "go team" of two train repair workers and a "rescue locomotive" that would be able to tow the disabled train back to Farmingdale station. Both were stationed in Hicksville as part of standard operation procedure during a snowstorm.

Although the rescue engine was intended to arrive around the same time as the repair workers, a frozen train switch caused it to be stuck just east of Hicksville.

Unable to use that rescue locomotive, LIRR officials had to find another nearby engine capable of towing the disabled train.

They chose to divert an engine that was assigned to a push plow scheduled to clear snow from Ronkonkoma to Greenport. The LIRR first had to find an engineer to operate the engine, and called upon an engineer who was near Ronkonkoma and had just completed his shift.

By the time the engine arrived at Wyandanch, the "go team" had already gone through several steps to try to identify the train's problem, but could not.

With Bill Bleyer

>> LINK: LIRR President's message about the 2009 blizzard

>> MORE: Read what some of the stranded passengers had to say

>> PHOTOS: Latest on LI | East Coast buried | Classic LI snowstorms | Send your photos!
>> LIVE: Latest forecast and radar | Traffic and LIRR snarls
>> ALERTS: School and organization closings | Breaking news
>> DIVERSIONS: Going out? Best sledding spots | Staying in? Top 9 of 2009 lists

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