The blizzard of 2009 forced the cancellation of many Long Island Rail Road trains and delayed others. But the worst rider experience may have occurred on the 2:54 a.m. to Ronkonkoma, whose passengers were stranded for hours without heat.
Passengers complained the crew provided no specific information on what was happening. "They didn't give us any information," said Hofstra University student Sarah Arrington. "We didn't know whether it was going to be five minutes or two hours, and it ended up being three hours without any heat. It was just absolutely miserable."
LIRR President Helena Williams said the two conductors frequently updated passengers.
The train with 150 passengers - including 50 picked up from the 1:17 a.m. from Penn Station that was canceled in Farmingdale at 2:38 a.m. because conditions were too snowy for an electric train - left Manhattan on time. It was scheduled to reach Ronkonkoma at 4:14 a.m.
Delayed by drifting snow and frozen switches at Jamaica and Hicksville, it arrived in Farmingdale at 4:46 a.m. and took on the waiting passengers, Williams said. It headed east but rolled to a halt 15 minutes later, east of Wyandanch when its diesel locomotive, one of the group purchased in 1998 that has caused repeated maintenance problems for the railroad, went kaput. Emergency lights illuminated the cars. Once the engine broke, there was no more heat coming to the cars, Williams said.
"Moisture got into the engine and just shut it down," Williams said.
The railroad dispatched a team of troubleshooters on another engine stationed at Ronkonkoma for the storm. "They tried to fix it and were unsuccessful," spokesman Joe Calderone said.
Then an LIRR diesel switching engine was brought in from the west because there is only one track in that area. The effort to tow the train was further delayed by frozen couplers on the engine and train that had to be thawed.
So it wasn't until 6:40 that the train began going backward to Farmingdale, arriving at 8. The passengers boarded the next Ronkonkoma train that left Farmingdale at 8:13 a.m. and arrived at Ronkonkoma about 8:45 a.m., nine minutes late and about seven and a half hours after 50 of the passengers first boarded in Manhattan.
The diesel engine that broke down was purchased by LIRR in 1998 from EMD, a company that no longer exists.
Maureen Michaels, chairwoman of the LIRR Commuter Council, said the odyssey reflected two of her advisory group's biggest concerns. "We are getting more and more complaints about lack of effective communication during disruptions," she said. "We do not believe that they had the necessary equipment strategically placed to rescue a disabled diesel train" considering their record of breakdowns and the weather.
With Michael Amon
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