Hundreds of feet of copper cables were ripped from A train tracks in Queens, severely stunting the morning rush hour commute yesterday and constituting one of the more significant thefts of its kind, MTA authorities said.

The theft of copper cables is a fairly common problem, which the MTA is trying to combat with infrared cameras, said MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz. The MTA has already purchased cameras and may buy more, but Ortiz declined to comment on an exact number.

"This is a prevalent issue that railroads throughout the country are facing," he said, adding that Wednesday's snag in service was less common.

About 500 feet of copper cables were stolen from at least 12 different places along the track near Howard Beach. The electrical current that wasn't able to flow through those sections then damaged some of the signal equipment and track.

It was discovered when a northbound A train lost power just beyond the Howard Beach station about 11:20 p.m. Tuesday, temporarily stranding about 150 customers, according to the MTA. A second train pulled up behind it and the customers walked through the cars to get back to the station about an hour later.

Service was finally restored about 10:30 a.m., Ortiz said, and more permanent repairs were planned for Wednesday evening after 10 p.m.

The theft stranded trains that were stored in the Rockaway Park yard and created delays along the entire A and C lines. These trains carry about 100,000 commuters for the morning rush hour, and about 3,700 people from the Rockaways to Manhattan in the mornings, according to the MTA.

On Wednesday however, the number of shuttle buses the MTA used to make up for the lack of a train caused traffic to be at a standstill.

Kim Bennett, 40, of Rockaway Beach said she tried and failed twice to leave before finally being able to drive all the way to work.

"When there is only two lanes leading out, you cannot take all these buses and crowd up one lane. We were at a standstill in Rockaway," she said. "I was very stressed out. It's just terrible."

Bennett, who works for the musical "Gigi" on Broadway, said she was two hours late Wednesday. Her fiance, who takes the A train to his job with the Parks Department in Manhattan, luckily didn't have to leave until noon -- and even he experienced delays, she said.

State Assemb. Phillip Goldfeder (D-Far Rockaway), who represents Howard Beach, said better safeguards are needed to prevent this kind of theft from happening again. "The fact that people can get into the system and steal is disgraceful," he said.

Typically, copper is stolen from inside the walls of buildings, said Kyle Sexton, a spokesman for the Copper Development Association Inc., a nonprofit industry organization.

Sexton said the thieves will probably try to sell the wiring to a scrap yard; payments vary based on how wide the stolen cables were. The MTA declined to comment on the width or weight of the stolen cables.

"More than likely they will be looking to scrap this," Sexton said, adding that the cost to repair the damage from the thefts is more "than the value of scrap that is actually taken."

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