The Long Island Rail Road continued piecing its system back together Wednesday after being battered by the high winds of Tropical Storm Isaias — an event the MTA chairman said did more damage to portions of the LIRR than superstorm Sandy.
The LIRR was still not at full strength late afternoon Wednesday, as the railroad’s Port Jefferson branch remained shut down. Throughout the system, downed trees and utility poles blocked tracks and cut off power to the railroad’s signal and electrified third rail system.
By Wednesday morning, the LIRR had resumed service on its Babylon, Huntington, Ronkonkoma, Far Rockaway, Hempstead, Long Beach, Port Washington and West Hempstead branches. Later in the day, the Oyster Bay and Port Washington branches came back online, as did the railroad’s Main Line from Ronkonkoma to Greenport.
The restoration effort required a team of 1,000 employees scattered through the rail system removing debris, and assessing and repairing damage.
“This was a wind event [that was], in some ways, a worse storm than superstorm Sandy was. That was certainly the case on Long Island,” Patrick Foye, chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority — the LIRR’s parent agency — told WCBS 880 radio. “There was extraordinary damage done to the Long Island Rail Road system — about 100 trees down in over 30 to 40 locations.”
Whereas much of the damage caused by Sandy in October 2012 was due to corrosive floodwaters, the pummeling the LIRR took on Tuesday was largely the result of Isaias' ferocious winds, which LIRR president Phillip Eng said reached nearly 80 mph in parts of the system. Speaking to LI News Radio, Eng detailed the extent of the damage, including in one area in New Cassell where the tracks abut a building.
“The roof blew off and it landed on our tracks, pulling down some wires,” Eng said. “PSEG worked very closely with us, de-energized. We got the roofing removed and we repaired the track and repaired the third rail and service is now running through there.”
The LIRR’s most extensive service disruptions in months came at a time when it is still carrying relatively few passengers because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Eng said, as of Monday, railroad ridership remained at around 23%, as compared with the same period last year.
Many of those who did ride the rails during or after the storm voiced frustration over lengthy delays, multiple cancellations and confusing communication. Daniel Dziomba of North Babylon said when some trains began operating on Tuesday night, after a systemwide suspension, the railroad only announced them “minutes before their departure time … giving no one any time to commute to catch a train.”
“Honestly, once on the train it went smooth last night but getting there was an arduous task,” said Dziomba, 38, who finally got home around 10:30 p.m., after being picked up in Lynbrook by his brother. On Wednesday morning, his 65-minute commute took 2 hours, as his train was taken out of service in Jamaica because of mechanical issues, he said.
Foye suggested the Isaias-related repairs would only further strain the MTA’s operating budget, which has been devastated by a sharp drop in fare revenue and tax receipts because of the pandemic. He said the storm added urgency to the agency’s calls for a federal bailout.
“This is going to be a costly endeavor,” Foye told PIX 11 Morning News.
Riders on the Nassau Inter-County Express, or NICE Bus, also dealt with lingering storm-related service issues on Wednesday, and officials warned they could last into Thursday.
“Downed trees, fallen utility wires, and powerless traffic signals are impacting driving conditions. All riders should expect systemwide delays, plan extra time for their commutes, and check with NICE Bus for service updates,” NICE said in a statement. “As always, passenger and employee safety will remain the top priority for NICE Bus.”