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LIRR restoration timetable depends on LIPA

The railroad crossing gate on Eagle Avenue in

The railroad crossing gate on Eagle Avenue in West Hempstead wasn't working Tuesday morning. It was broken Monday night during megastorm Sandy. (Oct. 30, 2012) Credit: Newsday / Jeff Schamberry

The Long Island Rail Road said all train service remains suspended Tuesday, with Penn Station and Jamaica Station closed because of storm damage from Sandy.

And, while the railroad promised to "deploy forces to conduct a full assessment of the damage to our tracks and other infrastructure," don't expect to catch a train anytime soon.

The LIRR can't go back on line until LIPA supplies power, MTA chairman Joseph Lhota said Tuesday.

Sandy has put several obstacles in the way of the recovery of the region's public transportation network as it tries to get rolling again.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority overnight announced that seven subway tunnels under the East River had flooded. One tunnel used by the Long Island Rail Road in and out of Penn Station also flooded, and the LIRR was forced to evacuate its West Side Yards.

All MTA service remained suspended Tuesday. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced that some city buses would resume on a Sunday schedule at 5 p.m. -- and would not be charging fares. A full schedule is expected for Wednesday, he said.

"The damage to the tracks and the tunnels under water is unlike anything this city has seen ever," said Cuomo, who praised MTA officials for their decision to shut down the system ahead of the storm and move equipment to higher ground.

Lhota said in a statement that "Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc on our entire transportation system, in every borough and county of the region." He said that the authority may be able to restore some subway system Tuesday supplemented by bus service.

Lhota advised riders to think about their commuting options as a mix of bus, rail and subway as transit agencies work to repair the transit system.

LIRR president Helena Williams said Monday night that the duration and strength of the storm is making recovery more difficult that it was from last year's Tropical Storm Irene.

To hit the ground running once Sandy left the region, Williams said she put up several LIRR workers and their chain saws in hotel rooms throughout Long Island. She expected them to begin a thorough inspection of the railroad's infrastructure from Manhattan to Montauk when sustained winds dropped below 30 mph.

Williams said the most obvious impact on the LIRR system would come from downed trees, utility poles and power lines on tracks.

She said the LIRR will also need to have power restored to its substations and signal boxes in order to power signal systems, the electrified third rail and crossing gates.

Before restoring service, Williams said the LIRR will operate a test train through the whole system, looking for obstacles.

Williams said saltwater on the Penn Station tracks from the flooding could have damaging, corrosive effects.

Lhota noted that buses and train cars were not damaged in the hurricane.

NICE Bus in Nassau and Suffolk County Transit remained suspended Tuesday morning.

There is no firm timeline for restoring mass transit and commuter railroads damaged by the storm, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Tuesday.

"A good four or five days," Bloomberg said at one point as he was pressed on when electrical power and mass transit might be restored. "I'd be happy if that's what it turned out to be."

Lhota outlined blows from Sandy in a statement Tuesday.

""The New York subway system is 108 years old," the MTA chairman said, "but it has never faced a disaster as devastating as what we experienced last night."

Commuter railroads took a big hit, one that will affect Long Islanders and Westchester residents who work in Manhattan. The Long Island Rail Road evacuated its West Side Yards and found flooding in one East River tunnel, Lhota said. The Metro-North Railroad lost power, from 59th Street to Croton-Harmon on the Hudson line and to New Haven on the New Haven line, he said.

The Hugh L. Carey Tunnel, formerly the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, was "flooded from end to end," while the Queens Midtown Tunnel, the last major link to remain open in and out of Manhattan, was also closed after taking on water, the MTA head said.

Six bus garages were put out of business after being disabled by high water, he said.

Meanwhile, Amtrak also released a statement saying most service remains suspended in the Northeast on Tuesday, stations in the affected areas are considered closed. A decision will be made later Tuesday regarding the restoration of limited service north and south of New York starting Wednesday, officials said.

With John Valenti

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