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Long IslandTransportation

A bad week for LIRR commuters includes damage from suspected lightning strikes

The most recent delays and cancellations Wednesday morning were due to a power outage, a railroad spokeswoman said.

Commuters wait for the doors to close on

Commuters wait for the doors to close on a westbound LIRR train at the New Hyde Park station on Wednesday morning. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

Cancellations and delays plagued the commutes of tens of thousands of Long Island Rail Road riders for the third straight day Wednesday, as a power outage from a suspected lightning strike caused yet more equipment breakdowns. 

The railroad said it appeared that power surges from Tuesday evening’s lightning storm eliminated the LIRR’s ability to control its track switches from New Hyde Park to east of Merillon Avenue. 

And while the issue was repaired in time for the Wednesday evening commute, LIRR president Phillip Eng said the signal system damage caused by the power surge may yet require further work.

Throughout Wednesday morning, there were delays of more than an hour and a half on the Ronkonkoma, Port Jefferson and Oyster Bay branches, with multiple trains canceled.

Eng said, because the railroad had kept extra crews available throughout Tuesday night and into Wednesday morning, it was able to quickly respond to the power outage and have workers manually operate switches to keep trains running throughout Wednesday morning.

“That allowed us to at least move people into the city, albeit at slow speed. We know it had ripple effect, causing delays. But we were at least able to move trains through that area,” Eng said Wednesday.

PSEG Long Island responded to the scene Wednesday morning and tested its equipment on Denton Avenue east of the New Hyde Park station. A PSEG spokeswoman said the equipment was functioning properly and that “the issue is on the inside” of LIRR’s infrastructure.

Shortly before 4 p.m., the railroad said it had repaired the signal problem, and an LIRR spokeswoman said the evening rush proceeded with few hitches beyond one canceled train and a few delays of up to 15 minutes. In anticipation of possibly more predicted storms, the LIRR had stationed extra personnel and equipment at key locations. 

The power surge was the latest in a string of service problems that began during the Monday morning rush, when two separate fatal train strikes — both being investigated as suicides — caused delays and cancellations.

Several other complications, including switch problems in Central Islip, where LIRR have been working on the installation of a second track, unspecified weather-related track problems, and a fire at an electrical substation in New Hyde Park caused by a lightning strike from the same Tuesday evening storm have further impacted commutes this week.

Eng noted that his LIRR Forward service improvement initiative includes plans to reinforce key signal facilities with added lightning protection. The railroad aims to complete the upgrades at 30 locations this year, and have already completed them at 11, Eng said.

—With Ellen Yan 

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