An overnight fire on the Metro-North line in New York had a big impact Wednesday's commutes from Connecticut, and the delays are expected to linger into Thursday.
A fire in Manhattan caused massive delays and crowded trains along the Metro-North rail line including for commuters in New Haven.
"I decided for some reason to check to see what time Metro North was leaving and saw all of the hoopla with Grand Central, so I booked Amtrak instead," commuter Angela Pessolano said. "Obviously, it's a lot more expensive, but I figured it would be better to get there on time."
Metro-North personnel worked throughout the night on Tuesday to assess the extent of damage and make repairs; however, trains ran on a Saturday schedule on Wednesday, and will continue to on Thursday.
Two of the four tracks in the area of the fire were repaired on Wednesday morning ahead of the morning rush.
Sat. schedule continues into/ out of GCT. All inbound & some outbound express trains skip Harlem-125th St. See https://t.co/OBa4yu1izk .— Metro-North Railroad (@MetroNorth) May 18, 2016
On Tuesday, a fire under the Park Avenue viaduct at 118th Street occurred around 7 p.m. and smoke could be seen billowing from the scene. More than 150 firefighters were called to contain the fire, which started between two construction trailers. Firefighters said the heat was so intense that it bent part of the steel frame that supports an overpass.
A cab driver, who works out of Westport, told Eyewitness News that he was waiting at the station when customers were pulling up in New York City cabs and Ubers around 11 p.m. Tuesday.
"After 4 hours, I had commuters come in and take my cab and talk about the frustration and I just felt really bad for them," said Christopher Lopez, a cab driver. "Commuters actually took New York City cabs and Uber cabs over to the station, and I had to take them home."
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said he spoke with MTA President Thomas Prendergast on Wednesday morning. The Connecticut governor said the Department of Transportation will continue to closely monitor the fire and are "receiving real-time updates on the status of the Metro-North rail line."
"The MTA has assured me that it is working around the clock to complete repairs and return to full service. Those residents who can work from home or can avoid Metro-North should do so until repairs can be completed – if residents have alternative means of travel, we would strongly urge them to utilize it. Trains this evening will no doubt be busy, and service will continue to be delayed and disrupted in the hours and days ahead. This will take time, and while it’s undoubtedly very frustrating for residents, we would urge patience. The MTA assures us that it is doing all that it can to bring the line back to full capacity, and our office will continue to monitor this situation exceptionally closely," Malloy said in a statement on Thursday.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal called on the Federal Railroad Administration and National Transportation Safety Board to investigate the New York City fire.
“I am relieved no deaths or injuries have been reported following last night’s fire in East Harlem, but after all the collisions and catastrophes that have affected commuters in recent years, the last thing Metro-North needed was a massive conflagration on the tracks, delaying and disrupting the commutes of thousands of travelers," Blumenthal said in a statement on Thursday.
Blumethal said that Metro-North "needs to improve its communication procedures in these types of incidents." He added that it is "unacceptable" to leave thousands stranded at Grand Central Terminal and other stations for hours.
"We need to ensure that Metro-North – and railroads nationwide – are regularly reviewing rail track and taking all steps necessary to ensure that incendiary, highly combustible materials are stored far away from passenger trains and tracks. We may not be so lucky next time," Blumenthal said.
John Harkleroad, who commutes from Hamden, said all anyone can do is plan ahead.
"I'll come in a little later, leave a little later," Harkleroad said. "Maybe I'll be off the hook."
With work continuing on the other two tracks and the Saturday schedule on Thursday, officials warned commuters to expect delays and extremely crowded conditions. They are asking that if possible, commuters should try to make alternative travel plans or work from home. They also recommended that riders work from home if they can.
"They've had situations where they've shutdown service for several days," Harkleroad said. "You just have to keep on top of the alerts."
Trains could be delayed up to 60 minutes because of how much slower they have to go through Harlem.
Metro-North is hoping to fully restore service by Friday.
For more on the Saturday schedule, click here.
More information can be found on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's website here.
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