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LIRR: Train accident leads to ongoing service disruption on South Fork 

The scene of the derailment east of Speonk

The scene of the derailment east of Speonk on Saturday morning. Credit: John Roca

This story was reported by Alfonso A. Castillo, Matthew Chayes, David Olson, Jean-Paul Salamanca and John Asbury. It was written by Castillo.

A Saturday morning accident involving two Long Island Rail Road trains near Speonk is expected to continue to disrupt travel to and from the South Fork during one of the busiest weekends of the year in the Hamptons, LIRR officials said.

LIRR crews were working Saturday night to repair what officials called “extensive” damage to the tracks after the two trains derailed — causing a suspension of the LIRR’s Montauk line east of Patchogue.

By Saturday afternoon, the railroad had restored some service to the South Fork using buses between Patchogue and Hampton Bays and a shuttle train between Hampton Bays and Montauk. Metropolitan Transportation Authority chairman Patrick Foye said the service plan would remain in place through Sunday “as we finish our restoration.”

In a statement to its customers Saturday afternoon, the railroad said those going to the Hamptons or Montauk “may wish to consider alternate branches or alternate means of transportation to avoid transfers. Re-railing is underway as we continue to evaluate the extent of the damage and investigate the cause of this incident.”

The Memorial Day weekend travel trouble began when a Montauk train that left Penn Station shortly after 1 a.m. and was due to arrive at 4:09 a.m. sideswiped a work train east of Speonk during a passing maneuver at 30 mph, an MTA spokesman said.

None of the 32 passengers aboard the Montauk train were injured, the MTA said. The work train was unoccupied, but the collision caused the engine of the Montauk train and the last car of the work train to derail.

The derailed locomotive,  car No. 511, could be seen leaning diagonally off the track, its front end pushed against a bed of track ballast stones.

After cleaning spilled diesel fuel off the tracks, LIRR employees began hoisting the derailed trains back on the tracks. Around 2:30 p.m., Foye, who visited the accident scene with LIRR president Phillip Eng, said an LIRR “wreck crew has successfully and safely re-railed” the eastbound passenger train. Eng said the crews used hydraulic devices to jack up the derailed locomotive and bring it “back over the tracks to place it on the tracks.”

The accident disrupted Hamptons-bound travelers over the holiday weekend, and left thousands of passengers who were transported to the South Fork on Friday wondering how they would get back.

The LIRR carried more than 8,600 riders to the Hamptons on Friday, including on its popular Friday afternoon “Cannonball” direct train, a spokesman said. Last year, the railroad moved another 4,000 customers east of Speonk on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend alone.

John Halvorsen and his girlfriend, Vanessa Vinci, both of Manhattan, took the train that arrived at 1:10 p.m. in Patchogue. The couple said they were on their way from Penn Station to Southampton to visit a friend for the holiday weekend. When they heard from the conductor while en route that their train would instead make its final stop in Patchogue, the announcement caught them by surprise.

“I thought, ‘Oh, no, what are we going to do? What if there are no buses, and what about cabs?’” Vinci said. The couple was lucky enough to have the friend they were visiting agree to pick them up.

Montauk-bound Aidan Kears, 22, of Brooklyn, learned about 6:15 a.m. — via the MTA’s app — about the delays, while on his way to Penn Station. There were no seats available on the Hamptons Jitney, the private bus service that operates between the East End and the city.

“I checked the Jitney, and it was booked. I was like, ‘There’s nothing else I can do, I have to get on this train,’” said Kears, who was eventually able to get picked up by some friends.

The accident sent the railroad scrambling to find available buses to transport displaced travelers. Early in the day, the LIRR was telling riders no buses were available. But by midmorning, the railroad had dispatched some, including yellow school buses, to Patchogue.

The agency said it also was coordinating with ride-hailing providers Uber and Lyft to help pick up passengers at Patchogue.

The railroad said Saturday it was investigating the cause of the accident. Federal Railroad Administration spokesman Warren Flatau said the “FRA was promptly notified about the derailment, and has dispatched regional personnel to investigate.”

It’s not the first time LIRR work and passenger trains have made contact in recent years.

In October 2016, an LIRR work train sideswiped a Huntington-bound passenger train near New Hyde Park, knocking its first three cars off the south track and injuring 26 passengers and seven LIRR employees. Other such incidents occurred in 2015, 2013 and 2008 — none of them resulting in any deaths.

Saturday’s accident happened along one of the more underdeveloped stretches of track along the LIRR system. East of Babylon, the LIRR’s Montauk Line is not electrified and consists largely on a single track. Trains must pull over to side tracks to allow others to pass by.

Until relatively recently, the area where Saturday morning’s accident occurred was known as the LIRR’s “dark territory,” because of its lack of a modern signaling system. LIRR train crews instead communicated with each other by radio and, sometimes, using paper orders to know whether to anticipate an oncoming train.

The railroad completed installation of signals between Montauk and Speonk in November 2017 as part of its planned implementation of positive train control.

Past incidents of LIRR trains hitting each other:

Oct. 8, 2016: An eastbound LIRR work train moves into the path of a Huntington-bound passenger train just east of New Hyde Park, injuring 33 people — four of them seriously.

July 17, 2015: Two passenger trains going in opposite directions sideswipe just west of Jamaica Station during the evening rush. The LIRR later said one engineer failed to obey a stop signal.

June 4, 2013: Two LIRR work trains collide just west of Hicksville, injuring two railroad employees.

Nov. 19, 2008: Two westbound trains bump each other as they pull out of Jamaica Station during the morning rush hour. Five passengers suffer minor injuries. LIRR officials said one of the engineers missed a stop signal and sideswiped the other.

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