Blaze Wreaks Havoc on LIRR

NY Post - August 24, 2010

by REBECCA HARSHBARGER and TOM NAMAKO

It was the commute from hell for thousands of Long Island residents.

Service on the Long Island Rail Road yesterday was cut nearly in half during the evening rush hour after a fire ravaged a main switching tower at Jamaica station -- where 10 of the 11 lines converge -- causing massive headaches for riders.

"Maybe I'll just stay here and have a beer and wait it out," said Robert Colonne, 41, of Floral Park, a tech-projects manager who had been waiting for a train at Penn Station for hours.

Officials said about 25 percent of this morning's rush hour trains will be canceled.

The only unaffected part of the railroad yesterday was its Port Washington branch.

"On a normal weekday, we have about 100,000 customers leaving Manhattan between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. on 120 trains," LIRR President Helena Williams said.

As of last night, "about 60 percent of service" was available, she said.

With the LIRR's regular timetable scrapped, riders were left to catch any trains they could at Penn Station.

NYPD and MTA police set up barricades for riders to wait behind along West 31 and West 33rd streets outside Penn Station, and blocked off West 32nd and Madison Square Garden with emergency tape to maintain order.

The "limited" service was an improvement from earlier in the day, when no trains were running.

Riders were desperate to get home.

"My son is sick. My husband stayed with him, and I have to relieve him," said Shelley Benizri, 41, of Cedarhurst.

Others said they had been told to go to the less-congested Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn.

But "someone has to pick me up from Brooklyn. It inconveniences both of us," said Shelley Hill, 42, of West Hempstead. "My work colleagues and I are scrambling. Some people can't find baby sitters."