A Long Island Rail Road train struck a car that had been abandoned on the tracks by a woman who "lost her bearings" while driving in the heavy rain Thursday, resulting in major service problems during the morning rush hour, an LIRR spokesman said.
The incident damaged the LIRR's electrified third rail, which has been repaired, spokesman Aaron Donovan said. No problems are expected for the evening or Friday morning commute, he said.
About 6 a.m., the 62-year-old area resident was driving her sport-utility vehicle across the tracks at the Broadway grade crossing in Bethpage when her car stalled on the tracks, Donovan said.
"The motorist had been disoriented or lost in some way. As soon as she recognized that her car was on the tracks and she was not able to move, she fled from the car on foot," Donovan said.
The 5:29 a.m. westbound train out of Ronkonkoma, carrying as many as 1,200 commuters, struck the empty car on the tracks. The accident did not result in any injuries, and caused only minor damage to the train. But it did damage the LIRR's electrified third rail, requiring the LIRR to suspend service between Ronkonkoma and Hicksville for nearly three hours during the height of the morning rush hour as repairs were made.
Service was restored around 8:40 a.m., but residual delays lasted through the late morning.
The passengers were delayed 130 minutes as crews worked to remove the car off the tracks using a crane and then made the repairs to the damaged rail. The train eventually moved, on its own power to Penn Station, Donovan said.
In total, the LIRR canceled or partially canceled 16 westbound Ronkonkoma Branch trains and three eastbound Ronkonkoma Branch trains as a result of the crossing accident.
Separate incidents on the LIRR, including a broken rail crossing gate in Stewart Manor and a disabled vehicle on the tracks near Port Jefferson, resulted in other delays during the morning rush.
The latest delays come just over a week after a power outage in the railroad's signal system near the East River tunnels in Queens caused a major service disruption during last Wednesday's morning rush hour. The LIRR later apologized for the incident, which was caused by a faulty electrical wire, and said it would conduct an internal review to prevent a similar recurrence and to examine its communication efforts, which were criticized by riders and advocates.
John McCloskey, who was forced to work from home during last week's service problems, said he hit major delays again Thursday because of the stalled car on the Port Jefferson crossing, and again at Mineola because a door on his train would not close.
"My railroad ticket costs $4,000 a year . . . That's a huge sum of money by any measure. And, in return, we get late trains," said McCloskey, who believes the LIRR "has the potential to be a huge economic engine for Long Island."
"What we have instead is this culture of degradation and neglect that pervades the whole system."