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Long IslandTransportation

LIRR: Limited westbound rail service on branches affected by Westbury crash

A Long Island Rail Road Customer Service Ambassador

A Long Island Rail Road Customer Service Ambassador helps passengers at Penn Station, Manhattan on Feb. 27, 2019.  Credit: Charles Eckert

This story was reported by John AsburyRobert BrodskyStefanie DazioMatthew ChayesDeon J. Hampton and Rachel Uda. It was written by Brodsky and Castillo.

Limited westbound train service will be available Thursday morning on branches affected by the fatal crash involving two trains and a vehicle in Westbury, the Long Island Rail Road said late Wednesday night.

The trains will run at reduced speed on one of two tracks through Westbury. All eastbound morning train service will be suspended, the LIRR said, and 14 westbound trains will be canceled. Commuters on the Huntington/Port Jefferson and Ronkonkoma branches could see 10-minute delays as trains move through the crash site.

The LIRR said crews would continue making repairs and removing the two trains that crashed into a vehicle Tuesday night as it tried to get around a crossing gate at School Street near the Westbury LIRR station.

Earlier, the LIRR had restored limited morning and evening rush hour service on one of the two tracks running through the crash site. The driver and both passengers — all of whom remained unidentified Wednesday night — died in the crash. 

Crews "continue to work around the clock to rerail damaged cars and repair track damage," said the LIRR in a statemenrt. Railroad officials had not said late Wednesday night how long it would be before normal eastbound and westbound service would resume. 

In between rush hours, crews using heavy construction equipment worked to move the two derailed train cars back onto the tracks so they could be cleared away and workers could assess and repair the damage to the tracks.

The mangled train cars remained at the site Wednesday night, wedged against the northern platform and blocking one track while commuters boarded trains from the south side of the Westbury station.

In the afternoon, crews uncoupled six undamaged cars from the westbound train  and  had taken those six cars away so crews could re-rail the two damaged cars.

"Inspections have found extensive damage to infrastructure including rails, signal equipment and [the] third rail underneath the train" so it is possible more damage "may be revealed once the cars are removed," the LIRR said. "The status of the Thursday morning rush hour will depend on the extent of the track damage and the difficulty of re-railing the cars."

Even with dire warnings from the LIRR to commuters after the crash about potentially lengthy delays and train cancellations, commuters — both on the train ride home Wednesday night and to work in the morning — reacted to the conditions with more resignation than frustration. It was not a great day to take the train but not the nightmare many expected, according to dozens of affected LIRR riders.

Tracy Martin of Ronkonkoma, who works for New York City, was delayed because of cancellations. She had an extra hour tacked on to her morning commute — and her husband had to drive her to the Jamaica train station. 

It would be another hour, at least, Martin said, before she caught a train out of Penn Station. 

“Listen," she said. "It is what it is. I’ll see my kids later. It just slows down everything. You see everybody later.”

The LIRR kept up a steady series of tweets Wednesday night alerting riders of ongoing delays because of the crash as well as what to expect overnight and into Thursday morning.

"During the overnight," said a tweet posted just after 8:30 p.m., "we anticipate delays of up to 1 hour between Hicksville and Huntington/Port Jefferson and between Hicksville and Ronkonkoma, as some trains await bus connections." 

Separately, the Nassau Police Department said Union Avenue between School Street and Post Avenue near the crash site will remain closed through 7 a.m. Thursday.

With westbound service suspended on the Huntington/Port Jefferson and Ronkonkoma branches Wednesday, LIRR officials recommended westbound customers use other branches such as the Babylon, Montauk, Hempstead or Oyster Bay lines.

LIRR officials said four trains were added to the Babylon branch during the evening rush.

The railroad advised customers to stay updated by signing up for its email and text message alerts, visiting its website, following its social media channels, or by calling 511. The main rail status is at mta.info/lirr and real-time updates are at myLIRR.org.

Commuters heading to Long Island Wednesday night from Manhattan arrived at Penn Station in late afternoon to find it not unlike other workdays — scattered delays here and there, but no choking lines of stranded passengers.

Barbara Zeins of Sea Cliff said she had no problems but was upset with the driver in the crash. She said the LIRR was out in front early, letting people know after the crash about numerous delays and cancellations.

“I’m concerned about people who are in such a rush that they drive through the railing to get through,” Zeins said. “It wasn’t bad last night. They did a good job of informing people.”

Retired teacher Marisela Staller, 64, of Old Field, rode a train into the city at 10 a.m. for lunch with friends. She said her train into Manhattan arrived an hour late and included taking a shuttle bus from the Hicksville station to Mineola before catching a second train.

“They should pay us to ride the train," she said while waiting for the 4:49 p.m. on the Huntington/Port Jefferson branch out of Penn Station. “At least I didn’t have to work.” 

Late Wednesday afternoon, the westbound Babylon station platform was packed with Rangers fans waiting to catch the 4:35 p.m. express into Penn Station for a game against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Some said they wouldn’t normally travel out of Babylon, but were forced to come to the station because service was still suspended on other branches.

Two men who would normally take the train out of East Farmingdale caught the express from Babylon. Another man said he would usually catch a train from Hicksville, but came to Babylon instead.

Earlier, the LIRR had restored limited service on one of its two tracks running through the scene of Tuesday night’s fatal crash but it advised riders to expect cancellations, crowding and “heavy delays” throughout the day and evening rush Wednesday.

Despite a bevy of cancellations and delays, the morning commute otherwise ran smoothly at Hicksville, a key hub. But riders were still upset. 

Farzana Chowdhury of Jericho said she was trying to find any way she could to get to Penn Station. “I’m very frustrated,” she said.

The mood was a bit better in the afternoon for Levittown commuter Ray Castro, 34. He said he caught the 3:55 p.m. from Penn Station to Hicksville with little complications.
“We arrived 10 minutes late,” said Castro, a Manhattan carpenter. “It was a little slow going through Westbury.”

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