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LIRR: 10 trains to be canceled; disruptions could last ‘days’

A sign at the LIRR station in Ronkonkoma

A sign at the LIRR station in Ronkonkoma warns commuters of delays on Tuesday, April 4, 2017. Credit: James Carbone

The LIRR said it plans to cancel 10 trains Wednesday morning, with the disruptions plaguing tens of thousands of commuters since an NJ Transit train derailed Monday at Penn Station possibly lasting “for days.”

Wednesday’s morning rush hour will mark the fourth-straight one marred by major service problems for the LIRR. Disruptions Tuesday, including a broken rail near Jamaica and a disabled NJ Transit train in an East River tunnel, occurred amid new questions about how Amtrak runs Penn, the busiest rail hub in North America.

In addition to canceling the trains to Penn between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m. Wednesday, the LIRR also said it would terminate three trains at Jamaica and divert one to Hunterspoint Avenue, Queens, because of reduced track capacity after Monday morning’s derailment.

On Tuesday, riders filled social media with their outrage and frustration at service since the derailment, the second at Penn in less than two weeks.

“I’m at a loss for words,” tweeted @jfunk33.

The LIRR has given up access to four Penn Station tracks it typically uses to allow NJ Transit and Amtrak to operate as repairs continue at the derailment site.

“Amtrak has advised us that the repairs to damaged track will take a matter of days, unfortunately,” LIRR president Patrick Nowakowski said Tuesday. “Because of that, we must continue to operate on a reduced schedule until all repairs have been safely completed.”

On Tuesday, the LIRR canceled 14 of its usual 144 morning rush-hour trains, and ran 26 fewer trains from Penn than the 87 it usually runs during the evening commute. Anguished commuters also dealt with delays, crowding and confusion as they struggled to navigate around the derailment mess.

The LIRR urged them to travel outside of peak hours, travel to and from alternative stations in New York City, or even work from home.

LIRR commuter Darlene Micelli, of East Patchogue, left early from her job as an executive secretary hoping to catch a train from Penn before the height of the evening rush hour. Micelli said she’s had her train canceled four times in the last month, just as the cost of her monthly train ticket went up $15.

“People rely on this to go to work to make a living. They take all this money and they just don’t want to fix anything,” said Micelli, 54, who has noticed tempers flaring on the overcrowded trains during the recent service problems. “People push. Everyone wants to get home.”

The frustration was shared across social media, where LIRR riders vented over the latest of several major incidents that snarled service in recent weeks, including another train derailment in Penn just two weeks ago, the collision of two LIRR work trains in Mineola last month, an LIRR train derailment in Jamaica in February, and an LIRR train crash in Brooklyn in January.

“How is possible that the LIRR gets the brunt of delays into Penn when the derailment happened on NJ Transit lines?” wrote @tweetlilnuthins on Twitter.

Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board member Mitchell Pally, of Stony Brook, has the same question.

Pally said that on Monday, he asked authority officials to specify what, if any, obligations the LIRR has to share the Penn Station tracks it typically uses exclusively. The LIRR carries about twice as many riders to and from Penn each day as NJ Transit and about nine times as many Amtrak, which owns Penn and is responsible for all maintenance and repairs.

“You don’t want to sacrifice the transportation needs of a large group of people to benefit the transportation needs of a smaller group of people,” said Pally, who called the frequency of service disruptions caused by other railroads “intolerable.”

“It’s bad enough when we cause the problem,” Pally said. “Now the problem is caused by somebody else and we still feel the effects.”

MTA officials Tuesday did not answer whether they willingly gave up tracks at Penn to help the other railroads or were ordered by Amtrak to do so. But, in his statement, Nowakowski said the LIRR has offered Amtrak “support and any assistance they need to help speed these repairs.”

Amtrak spokesman Mike Tolbert said Monday’s slow-speed NJ Transit train derailment damaged a “major switch point” at Penn — limiting access to 8 of the station’s 21 tracks.

“As a result, Amtrak, NJ Transit and the LIRR are sharing the remaining tracks, which is leading to congestion and delays,” said Tolbert, adding he had “no prognosis on when this work will be complete.”

Tolbert added that the derailment occurred at a “separate location” from where an Amtrak train derailed March 24 in Penn Station, and that the two incidents appear unrelated. Amtrak will conduct “thorough and complete investigations” into both incidents, and is cooperating with the Federal Railroad Administration on its probes, Tolbert said.

The LIRR’s official watchdog group, the LIRR Commuter Council, on Tuesday called for a “prompt and candid presentation” of the investigations’ findings. The council also renewed its call for Amtrak to appoint an LIRR commuter to its board of directors “in recognition of the profound impacts that Amtrak-owned facilities can have on the commuter railroads that share them.”

Monday April 3: An NJ Transit train derails at Penn Station. The LIRR gives up four of its exclusive tracks to NJ Transit and Amtrak, resulting in days of cancellations and delays.

Friday March 24: An Amtrak train derails at Penn Station, striking a NJ Transit train. The LIRR canceled nearly 30 evening rush hour trains as it gave up access to four tracks so that Amtrak and NJ Transit could use them.

Friday, March 17: Two work trains collide on the tracks near Mineola, leaving one disabled on the tracks for hours and causing numerous cancellations and major delays into the evening rush hour.

Monday, March 6: An Amtrak switch problem inside one of the East River tunnels reduces the LIRR’s track capacity by half during the evening rush hour, resulting in nearly two dozen canceled trains, a suspension of all westbound service, and lengthy delays.

Wednesday, Feb. 8: A Huntington-bound train derails at Jamaica, striking a station platform and taking out the station’s signal and electrified third-rail system during the morning rush hour. Full repairs took several days to complete.

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