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Passenger: Emotions ran high on stranded LIRR train

More than 100 LIRR passengers are stuck for

More than 100 LIRR passengers are stuck for three hours without heat at about 5 a.m. Sunday just east of the Wyandanch train station. (Dec. 20, 2009) Credit: News12

For one man, a couple hours stuck on broken-down Long Island Rail Road train number 8004 was enough. He was breaking open a window, he announced to the train's first car, and climbing out, blizzard or no.

A conductor called MTA police for help, but then another man threatened to open a window, said passenger Susin Packert. Backup was called and no one left the train, officials said.

>> PHOTOS: Record-breaking snow pounds LI

>> VIDEO: Passengers trapped on LIRR train during blizzard

But it was one of many signs of high emotions running among 150 passengers stranded for three hours early Sunday morning in four LIRR cars in one of the worst snowstorms to hit Long Island. With no electricity, the only bathroom broken and falling temperatures, passengers passed the time arguing, plotting escapes and calling loved ones, the media and the LIRR.

"No lights, no food, no water, no bathroom," Packert said. "People were just freaking out."

Adding to the misery was the perception that conductors were holding back information or that help shouldn't have been far away. The train broke down less than 140 yards from the platform of Wyandanch station, LIRR officials said.

"It felt like they didn't want to talk to us," said William Moriarty, 20, a Hofstra student from Boston.

LIRR president Helena Williams announced Monday "a full-scale review" of what happened. She noted that no one was injured, and other officials said it would have been too dangerous to evacuate in a blizzard, even with a station nearby.

The Ronkonkoma-bound train left Penn Station at 2:53 a.m. and chugged into the snow with a mix of Manhattan partygoers, workers coming off night shifts and travelers from airports, Packert said. It was a rough ride from the beginning.

A fight among passengers in Woodside, a change in Jamaica from an electric train to a sturdier diesel better for snow and an engineer's cautious driving on icy tracks made the train an hour late by the time it reached Farmingdale at 4:46 a.m., LIRR officials said.

That's where it picked up 50 passengers stranded there after their 1:17 a.m. Ronkonkoma train was canceled mid-route because of snow on the third rail.

Fifteen minutes later, the train groaned to a stop just after leaving Wyandanch. The lights soon flickered on and off and then went out.

Packert, who was returning home from a Costa Rica-to-Newark flight, said a half-hour passed before an LIRR official addressed passengers. "They said, 'We've lost power and we're working on it,' " Packert said.

Packert passed the time talking with an LIRR employee sitting nearby who explained how the train worked. Others were less sanguine.

A couple argued about finding a way out of the train. A man called the LIRR customer service line and demanded to speak with a supervisor. Another man paced up and down the aisle, Packert said. "Let me off this train," she recalled him saying again and again.

By about 6 a.m., when a second announcement came that there was an engine problem, women in high heels and cocktail dresses began complaining of a chill in the car, Packert said. Worse, the train's only bathroom was overflowed and unusable, officials said.

Soon, the last announcement came: the engine problem couldn't be fixed. "It's an S.O.S.," Packert said the announcer said.

A female conductor walked into the first car and explained how another train would push their locomotive back to Farmingdale. She didn't know how long it would take.

Police soon stopped passengers in the first car from opening windows, but LIRR officials said a window was opened in another car. News 12 footage shows passengers pleading into a camera.

"Please help us," said one woman.

"I'm going to jump out," said a man.

Even after passengers returned to Farmingdale and caught an eastbound train at 8:13 a.m., the waiting was not over. At Ronkonkoma station, Packert said, there were no available taxis.

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

>> PHOTOS: Record-breaking snow pounds LI

>> VIDEO: Passengers trapped on LIRR train during blizzard

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