Repairs following LIRR fire could take days
Tuesday, August 24, 2010 - 03:01 PM
NEW YORK (AP) - It could be days before trains are running at full service after a fire that forced passengers on the nation's largest commuter railroad to struggle for a second day with limited service into and out of New York, an official said Tuesday.
Unrelated power problems caused failures on Amtrak and NJ Transit trains into Penn Station, compounding the headaches from the fire Monday at a key Long Island Rail Road switching station built in the 1920s. Authorities believe a soaking rainstorm overnight Sunday might have caused the fire.
The LIRR anticipated about 60 percent of its 114 scheduled trains would be available for tonight's commute. About 100,000 riders typically leave New York each night on the railroad. Bus service is replacing some trips.
"They should have more up-to-date systems in place, but what are you going to do?" accountant Sophia Bentley said as she waited for a train in Farmingdale. "I'm going to get on the next one that gets here. Whenever I get one, I get one."
Ten of the railroad's 11 branches run through Jamaica Station, a major transfer point for commuters to or from Manhattan and Brooklyn and to various points on Long Island. A complex network of wires and switches must be repaired.
The switching system, due for a $60 million overhaul this fall, was built in the 1920s, LIRR spokesman Mike Charles said. It uses a system of levers, pulleys and pneumatics to move trains between tracks entering and exiting the Jamaica depot.
Eastbound and westbound trains maneuver through a spaghetti-like network of eight tracks, often stopping at the station to allow passengers to transfer to alternate trains heading to their final destination.
"Water may have gotten into the cables and something shorted out causing a power surge," Charles said.
At least 50 signal specialists and "track gangs" were working to repair the system, he said. More than 200 different wires and connections have to be tested separately.
"It's a tedious job, but it has to be done right," Charles said, adding that it may take "a couple of more days" before everything gets back to normal.