Commuters wait for trains at the Mineola LIRR station. (Aug....

Commuters wait for trains at the Mineola LIRR station. (Aug. 29, 2011) Credit: Howard Schnapp

Full service for thousands of Long Island Rail Road customers won't be back until power is restored to crossing gates, debris is cleared from tracks, and flooded stations are dried out, officials said Monday.

LIRR crews were expected to be at crossing points between Patchogue and Speonk as early as Tuesday afternoon to hook up gates to electrical generators, the railroad said.

As of Monday night, the LIRR was up and running on seven lines after the historic shutdown of the entire MTA system Saturday afternoon in preparation for Tropical Storm Irene.

Service to Babylon, Far Rockaway, Hempstead, Huntington, Port Washington, Ronkonkoma and West Hempstead resumed in time for Monday's evening rush. 

However, LIRR service will remain suspended east of Huntington through to Port Jefferson for the morning rush, according to the MTA website. Service also is suspended east of Ronkonkoma and on the Long Beach, Oyster Bay, and Montauk Branches.

LIRR spokesman Sam Zambuto could not say how many riders used the system Monday, but said the number of passengers was "a little lighter" than a typical Monday.

Crews worked to bring back service on the remaining lines, which include Long Beach, Oyster Bay and Port Jefferson, as well as points east of Babylon and Ronkonkoma.

"We have other segments of our service area where we have cleared trees and checked the right of way," LIRR president Helena Williams said. "But we have no power at the crossings. So we are working with LIPA to prioritize where they can help with restoring power."

More than 120 crossing gates in Suffolk County were without power and unable to raise and lower for pedestrian and vehicle traffic Monday night, officials said.

Williams praised LIPA's work restoring power on segments of the Port Washington branch that she said were a "tangled mess" of downed utility poles and power lines.

LIPA outages are also keeping the LIRR from being able to communicate with customers about service suspensions through electronic signs and public address systems, officials said.

Without technology at its disposal, the LIRR should have had more "boots on the ground" to communicate with confused riders at several stations, said LIRR Commuter Council chairman Mark Epstein.

"After safety, the most important aspect is communication. And there absolutely was none," said Epstein, who heard from commuters who waited for scheduled trains that never arrived.

"They rely on this technology. Then, when the technology goes down, they have no backup," he said.

Williams said that customer assistance personnel were available at several key stations, including on the Port Washington line, but she acknowledged that more could have been done to inform customers.

"Making sure we could restore service, and doing it in a safe way, was our highest priority," said Williams, adding that more customer assistants in orange vests would be deployed to stations Tuesday.

Williams said bringing back some service Monday morning required a complex process of returning trains that were stored all over the system -- including on tracks in West Hempstead -- to their yards, having engineering crews inspect and test all trains and infrastructure, and completing the complicated paperwork that comes with restarting North America's largest commuter railroad.

Williams would not predict when full service would be restored and noted that parts of the system, including on the Long Beach line, were still under water.

However, she said the LIRR "needs" to have service to the East End back in time for the busy Labor Day getaway weekend.