Train Outage Mars Morning Commute; Malloy Halts Road Work

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NEW HAVEN — Commuters crowded onto fewer trains, sat in highway traffic, found creative ways to get to work or stayed home Thursday morning, the second day no electric trains moved between Stamford and New York City.

An electrical problem that forced Metro-North to suspend commuter rail service between the two cities Wednesday could take weeks to repair, leaving limited service available to the 125,000 people who use the New Haven Line each day, officials said.

The line will operate at about one-third capacity, using diesel trains and buses, while repairs are made. Those repairs could take up to three weeks, or longer, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said.

Malloy directed the state Department of Transportation to stop all routine road maintenance in lower Fairfield County to allow for a better traffic flow, he said Thursday.

“Needless to say, I am frustrated at this situation and continue to press the folks at Con Ed and Metro-North to fix it as quickly as possible,” Malloy said in a written statement Thursday. “But until the problems are alleviated, we need to take whatever steps we can to help mitigate congestion on roadways.”

Even before 7 a.m. Thursday, New York-bound traffic on Route 15, the Merritt Parkway, had slowed to a stop between exits 48 and 41, said Rachel Lutzker, traffic reporter for FOX CT.

“It looks like a parking lot right now,” she said at 7 a.m.

At 9 a.m., the drive on that stretch of the Merritt Parkway was taking about a half-hour, Lutzker said, while the trip on I-95 south from Bridgeport to Stamford was taking about 70 minutes, she said.

However, the DOT reported that the traffic on I-95 and the Merritt Parkway was only slightly heavier than normal for a weekday morning, Malloy said.

The suspension of road work will continue until further notice, the governor said. Affected roads include I-95, the Merritt Parkway, Route 1, Route 7, Route 123 and other busy roads. While it includes a lane expansion project on I-95 in Norwalk, it does not include bridge maintenance, which is being done at night. Any of the night work will be stopped and cleared by 6 a.m., he said.

The halted work includes mowing, patching, catch basin brush clearing, tree trimming and line striping.

Also, DOT’s Service Patrols — the large trucks with flashing lights that assist motorists whose vehicles have broken down — have been placed at various points along I-95 off the roadway to help get those vehicles off the road faster.

In addition to the limited train and bus service on the New Haven line, shuttle train service is being provided on the Danbury and New Canaan branches, starting Thursday morning, Metro North said. Bus service is being provided on the Waterbury branch.

The shuttle service on the Danbury branch is making all stops to and from South Norwalk, and the service on the New Canaan branch is making all stops to and from Stamford.

Amtrak service to and from Penn Station in New York also was delayed, and Amtrak’s Acela Express trains between Boston and New York, which also require electricity to run, were shut down indefinitely.

New Haven Line tickets continue to be honored on the Harlem Line.

Commuters should plan for a prolonged disruption on the New Haven Line, Malloy said during a press conference Wednesday. He encouraged people to work from home or to carpool.

“It’s not a fix that takes place overnight, by any stretch of the imagination,” he said.

Many people seemed to have taken the governor’s advice to stay home, although it’s not clear how long workers can telecommute. Some commuters found creative ways to get into the city Thursday, such as simply leaving later for work.

“People have been pretty tolerant,” said Ted Riedel of Boston Wednesday night. “…I think most people pick something else…other people are just driving or taking other transportation.”

The power outage comes less than five months after a New Haven Line train derailed and crashed into another train near the Fairfield-Bridgeport border, created major commuting problems for about a week. More than 70 people were injured in that crash, which tore up 2,000 feet of track and kept trains from passing through the area.

As Wednesday evening’s commute began, a limited number of diesel engines were on hand to transport passengers between Stamford and Grand Central Terminal along the powerless portion of track.

More diesel trains were being brought in for the coming days, Malloy said. But the service plan scheduled to begin Thursday morning, combining train and bus service, will accommodate only about 33 percent of the line’s normal ridership, according to Metro-North.

The problem stemmed from a 138-kilovolt Con Edison feeder line that supplies electricity to overhead wires that power the New Haven Line trains, according to the Metropolitan Transit Authority.

Malloy said the outage happened when a feeder line in Mount Vernon, N.Y. was taken out of service for repair work that had been going on for months. The feeder line that remained in service then failed, he said. The line was super-heated, he said, so workers couldn’t immediately pinpoint the problem.

Train service between Stamford and Grand Central was suspended Wednesday morning, then operated at about 10 percent capacity throughout the rest of the day because of an outage at a facility in New York state.

“We don’t have track power between Mount Vernon and Harrison, N.Y., and as a result we can only run diesel trains from Stamford down to Grand Central,” MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz said.

“Needless to say I am frustrated,” Malloy said. “I express that frustration on behalf of the 125,000 riders on this system.”

Riders at Stamford and other stations along the line expressed that frustration Wednesday afternoon.

“I’m just trying to be patient,” said Dayan Gonzalez, who was trying to get to John F. Kennedy International Airport.

Jim Cameron, a member of the CT Rail Commuter Council, said it has been a bad summer for rail commuters.

“Metro-North has proven itself to not be the most reliable of services for a variety of reasons,” he said.

Starting Thursday morning, limited train service and bus shuttles will make stops between Stamford and Grand Central, the MTA said Wednesday. New Haven Line tickets also will be honored on the Harlem Line, which runs from Southeast, N.Y., to Grand Central.

The diesel trains and buses are expected to be crowded and slow-moving. The MTA urged rail commuters to find alternate ways of getting to and from New York, if possible.

“There will be a substantial disruption for a substantial amount of time,” Malloy said.

Amtrak’s Acela Express service between New York and Boston was suspended for Wednesday and Thursday, and there are other cancellations as well, the company said. Passengers are advised to call ahead (1-800-872-7245) before arriving at the station.

Extra cars will be added to the Northeast Regional trains on Thursday to accommodate Acela passengers, an Amtrak spokesman said. Those trains will continue to run on their normal schedule, but passengers should prepare for possible delays, according to the spokesman.

Service between New York and Washington was also operating with delays Wednesday, Amtrak said.

Amtrak is working with Metro-North and local authorities, the company said, and will resume normal operations as quickly as possible once it learns that power is restored.

The full updated service schedule is available on both the Metro-North and state Department of Transportation websites.

By Kelly Glista and Christine Dempsey. FOX CT reports have been used for this story.

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