Due to a fire at a switching tower east of Jamaica Station, all Long Island Rail Road service except for trains running on the Port Washington line is currently suspended. Service has been suspended since shortly after 11 a.m. this morning, and LIRR officials are not sure when trains will head east. “We are not going to be able to operate all of our trains in the evening rush hour,” Sam Zambuto, an LIRR spokesman, said to City Room.
Michael Grynbaum and Andy Newman have more:
The railroad is currently unable to control the switches that allow trains to change tracks just east of Jamaica Station, a juncture point for 10 of the railroad’s 11 branches. The problem means that trains headed to and from New York City cannot pass that point.
The railroad has suspended nearly all its trains until the problem can be resolved, but trains on the Port Washington branch, the one route that does not pass through Jamaica Station, are continuing to operate on their tracks through northeastern Queens to Nassau County.
The fire, believed to be electrical, began in the switching tower around 11:10 a.m. and was under control by noon with no injuries, said a Fire Department spokesman, Steve Ritea. “It was fairly contained, not a lot of damage,” Mr. Ritea said. But the flame apparently did enough to throw the railroad’s switching system out of commission.
According to LIRR officials, as many as 240,000 travelers may be impacted during rush hour, and the agency will announce the alternate travel plans later this afternoon. MTA watchers, however, are not optimistic that tonight’s rush hour will be a smooth one. “You’re talking a major disaster here,” William Henderson of the Permanent Citizens Advisory Council to the MTA, said to The Times. “You are going to have a lot of people who are looking for ways to get home tonight.”
Henderson noted that the Jamaica Station, which could be reached via the E, J or Z trains, is not designed to handle the large crowds that may descend upon it later this evening. Additionally, the MTA does not yet know if service will be able to run east of Jamaica tonight. I’ll update this post as more information becomes available, and the MTA’s website will have the latest real-time travel information as well.
I remember my experience during the 2003 blackout when I had to get from Jones Beach to Stony Brook. I have to thank the Nassau Long Island Bus and the Suffolk Transit bus systems for getting me back to Stony Brook. It took 4-6 hours, but it could have been a lot worse.
In Berlin, there was a catastrophe of similar scale last year: on one day’s notice, DB discovered that its trains had a brake problem, and needed to recall three quarters of the Berlin S-Bahn rolling stock. Immediately, it instituted a contingency plan, eliminating service on lines paralleling the U-Bahn and streetcar networks while maintaining service or making smaller cuts on lines that parallel nothing; it also issued an emergency service map, showing all the alternatives to the lines that were cut.
Since the LIRR does not have rail alternatives east of Jamaica, a local equivalent would be extending express bus service, and notifying people about it immediately. It may or may not be useful to run trains east of the failure point as shuttles from Eastern Queens to Long Island; there may not be enough of them to handle the loads.
A small share of LIRR riders ride only from NYC to Jamaica or points west… the vast majority of people are affected by this, and except for the NYC-Jamaica stretch, there’s no alternate rail service. So Berlin’s situation and solution aren’t really going to help LIRR much.
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