A Long Island Rail Road passenger runs to make the...

A Long Island Rail Road passenger runs to make the 1:50pm Ronkonkoma train at Penn Station on Thursday, Jan. 4, 2018. The train is one of four added during the snowstorm. Credit: Charles Eckert

Commuters riding the Long Island Rail Road dealt with delays, suspended service and cancellations as Thursday’s strong storm left the agency and its crews battling a stream of problems linked to the cold weather, the winds and the snow.

The LIRR decided to add four eastbound trains for commuters returning home early to avoid a messier rush hour, but delays had piled up while workers worked to fix frozen switches and to remove obstructions on the tracks.

Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chair Joseph Lhota said during a Thursday afternoon briefing that ridership was down about 30 percent, with 29,000 fewer Long Islanders traveling westbound Thursday morning.

He also worried about problems ahead, as temperatures in the wake of the storm were due to plummet through the overnight hours.

As of Thursday evening, the agency had not issued any advisories on the upcoming morning commute.

“I am concerned about the freezing conditions,” Lhota said. “The Long Island Railroad is completely exposed to the elements and so that all of our switches, all of our equipment, is on the outside. We are doing all that we can to keep our tracks warm.”

The system experienced systemwide delays averaging 30 to 45 minutes by late Thursday afternoon. Service had been suspended altogether for some lines before noon, amid blizzard conditions in Nassau and Suffolk counties.

recommendedLong Island weather: Snowfall totals since 1947

The storm took some commuters by surprise, as conditions — and related travel issues — grew worse.

Breda Connolly, 48, an accountant in midtown Manhattan who lives in Westbury, admitted that she had underestimated the storm. “At first, it was 3-6 inches in Nassau and now it’s a blizzard?”

Connolly, a mother of five, took the LIRR and arrived at her office about 9 a.m. “I could do some work from home, but this is our busy season and, really, you’ve got to be in the office.”

About 1 p.m., though, her boss told everyone to go home. “I was terrified they would shut down the train service or something.”

The LIRR announcement of added trains was followed by closures — first on Ronkonkoma Branch, where a disabled tractor trailer was stuck on the tracks, and later on the Port Jefferson Branch, where a fallen tree was obstructing the way in Northport. The West Hempstead Branch was suspended for much of the day but limited service had been restored by evening.

Complications filled the LIRR’s Twitter feed by evening, including cancellations, service suspensions and one train crawling from Jamaica to Montauk — 170 minutes late, after getting stuck behind another disabled train.

Some braved the elements, walking up and down steps that disappeared in the blowing snow, slow trains and long waits.

Jim Callahan, of Lindenhurst, was stoic.

“There’s really nothing you can do about the weather. It’s how they handle it,” said Callahan, 58.

He was riding from Penn Station to Lindenhurst after a morning business meeting in Manhattan was canceled. The train was moving slowly, but at least it was moving.

Callahan, an operating engineer in the construction industry, knew what he would do when he got home: “Start shoveling.”

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