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Long Island

Penn Station signal trouble causes ‘unbearable’ LIRR commute

Police officers prevent passengers from entering the Long

Police officers prevent passengers from entering the Long Island Railroad concourse during the evening rush hour at Penn Station in Manhattan on Wednesday, May 10, 2017. Signal issues caused delays and cancellations during this evening's rush hour. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

LIRR commuters experienced one of the worst service disruptions in years as nearly 80 trains were canceled during the height of Wednesday evening’s rush hour, causing dangerous crowding at Penn Station and on the few trains still running.

It was the third-straight evening rush hour dogged by Amtrak-related failures inside one of the East River Tunnels leading into and out of Penn, through which 230,000 LIRR customers travel daily.

The slew of recent Penn infrastructure problems that have made long commutes routine for LIRR riders will be the focus of a special New York State Assembly hearing in Manhattan on Thursday.

“The LIRR has been so bad it’s unbearable,” LIRR commuter Anthony Barbieri said in an email. “This can’t possibly go on like this. It’s not fair to everyone that commutes using the LIRR.”

The problem that caused the disruption for about three hours Wednesday ‘‘does not appear to be an Amtrak infrastructure maintenance issue, unlike other incidents,’’ according to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the LIRR’s parent agency. ‘‘Root causes are still under review, but today’s p.m. rush-hour issues do not appear to be related to maintenance and repair issues.’

Amtrak, which owns and maintains Penn Station and the tunnels leading into the hub, said the problem was caused by a “dispatcher routing issue.’’ The railroad did not elaborate.

The crush of commuters with no train to board resulted in massive crowding at Penn, and MTA Police temporarily restricting access to the station until about 7 p.m.

The LIRR ran no trains into and out of Penn on half its lines — directing Long Beach, West Hempstead, Hempstead and Far Rockaway customers to travel out of Atlantic Terminal instead. The railroad also, for the second time this week, suspended all westbound service into Penn for the duration of the evening commute.

MTA spokeswoman Beth DeFalco said the problem was discovered when a train departing Penn experienced signal trouble around 3:43 p.m. A spokeswoman for Amtrak, which owns and maintains Penn and the tunnels, said around 6 p.m. that the problem had been “temporarily repaired.”

The railroad restored regular service out of Penn around 7:30 p.m.

Social media lit up with outraged LIRR customers at the end of their rope — many of them pushing state and federal lawmakers to hold the LIRR and Amtrak accountable for their consistently miserable commutes.

“This is ridiculous!” Tweeted AnnaMarie Pellechia‏. “Every single day!”

A disabled Amtrak train in one of the East River tunnels caused LIRR delays and cancellations during the Tuesday evening commute. And on Monday, a signal malfunction inside one of the tunnels caused widespread delays and cancellations during the p.m. rush.

Several other service hiccups in recent weeks have been caused by a range of problems, from dangling overhead wires, to weakened wooden rail ties, to mismatched pieces of track.

The N.Y. State Assembly’s Standing Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions is expected to grill Amtrak and LIRR representatives at Thursday’s hearing on the multitude of recent problems at Penn, which include two train derailments in just over a week, and on Amtrak’s recently announced plan to take several tracks out of service for weeks at a time during the summer to upgrade some of its aging track infrastructure.

Among those asking the questions will be Assemb. Michaelle Solages (D-Elmont), who was caught in the chaos of Penn Station while traveling by train back from Albany. Solages called the crowding at the station “the worst I’ve seen.”

“You can feel the frustration,” Solages said from Penn, where her 5:46 p.m. Long Beach train was among the casualties. “I want to hear explanations. This is just utterly ridiculous. Already, the price of a ticket is very high. So people deserve quality and sufficient service.”

At Penn, commuters cursed and stood cross-armed as news of the service disruptions came over the public address system. Cathy DeRanieri of Floral Park watched the LIRR departure board helplessly as her Hempstead trains were canceled, tacking at least an extra hour on her commute.

“I have a feeling it’s only going to get worse,” DeRanieri, who wished her insurance company employer would let her work from home. “It would be a huge help.”

Janice Balderas, 38, of Flushing, a secretary who takes the Port Washington branch to and from the Broadway rail station for work, said things have started getting chippy among frustrated commuters.

“There’s a lot of pushing,” Balderas said. “After cancellations, delays — you’re put on a crowded train you can barely fit in and we just have to deal with it.”

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