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LIRR president: Widespread delays on Belmont race day

LIRR commuters flock to Belmont Park to see

LIRR commuters flock to Belmont Park to see the 150th running of the Belmont Stakes on Saturday, June 9, 2018 Credit: James Escher

Widespread delays plagued train riders heading to Belmont Park for the third leg of the Triple Crown on Saturday, leaving thousands of people jammed together for an hour or more in crowded train cars.

The delays were caused by problems with the railroad signaling systems, officials said. They were repaired by the finish of the Belmont Stakes, setting the stage for a smooth departure for those headed home after the race.

“There were delays we encountered,” said Phillip Eng, the new president, who spent the day at Belmont managing the situation.

Eng said the train system had put extra people in place in case of such challenges. When the system failed at 1:20 p.m., workers were on hand to manage the signaling manually.

“If we had not done what we did, this situation would have been far worse. People would have been stranded,” Eng said, adding that the signal hardware issues were resolved by 5:20 p.m.

He said the trains brought 20,000 people to the park.

The signal problems suspended train service in both directions east of Jamaica on the Port Jefferson, Oyster Bay, Ronkonkoma and Hempstead branches. Eng said the delays extended to some of the 21 extra trains the railroad had put in place to serve riders headed to Belmont Park.

The site of the problem was just west of the Belmont, at the Queens interlocking in Queens Village where switches are located that route trains to the four lines.

Scott Wynn, 59, of Manhattan, was among those riders affected by the delays.

Wynn said it took him and his wife more than two hours to get from Penn Station to Belmont.

They boarded a 2:03 p.m. train which didn’t depart until about 2:35 p.m., Wynn said. They were then stopped at Jamaica for an hour due to signal problems and moved at a crawl for the rest of the way there, Wynn said.

“I’m beyond annoyed,” Wynn said. “We missed the whole day at the park, and it’s not a cheap ticket.”

He was frustrated by the experience, Wynn said, and he “doubts I’d ever come out again to the park.”

Ben Howe, 47, of Manhattan, said he boarded a train in Manhattan at about 2:45 p.m. and when the train arrived at the Jamaica station, it stopped for 45 minutes.

“It was crowded and hot,” he said. “We complained to the conductor but he said, ‘What can I do?’ ”

The air conditioner wasn’t working and some people — including seniors and young kids — started to feel ill. A few people threw up, he said.

Howe called the railroad experience, “appalling and typical.”

The LIRR has encountered race-day problems before: In 2014 the Belmont crowds overwhelmed the system and left people waiting hours for a train to get back home after the race. In the aftermath, the railroad put an expanded service plan in place for the race.

With Rachel Uda and Alfonso A. Castillo

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