Signal Problems, Power Outage, Delay Metro North

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NEW HAVEN — In the latest crisis for Metro-North, all trains on the New Haven, Harlem and Hudson lines came to a standstill for a couple of hours Thursday night because of signal problems, forcing commuters to wait in stranded train cars or seek alternate transportation.

The railroad said that at 7:45 p.m., power to the computer system that controls all train movements was interrupted. Power was restored and some trains began moving about 9:30 p.m.

Service was restored to all rail lines except for the Danbury branch of the New Haven line, which remained without service Thursday night.

While the signal problems remained, all trains stopped either at the nearest station or before entering any interlockings, where signals would have been needed to move trains forward, said Metro-North spokeswoman Marjorie Anders.

Passengers on the trains that reached station platforms could get off and seek alternate transportation. Trains that were forced to stop before reaching a station were stranded, and passengers had to stay aboard, but they had power, with heat and lights, Anders said.

Photos showed large crowds at Grand Central Terminal in New York, used by all the Metro-North lines, as commuters waited for service to start up again.

Anders warned that even after the trains began rolling again, customers would see “significant residual delays.”

James Redeker, commissioner of the state Department of Transportation, said Thursday night that he expected all delays to be cleared up by the morning’s commute.

Amtrak service between New York City and New Haven also was delayed Thursday night.

The commuter railroad has seen a chain of wrecks and service fiascoes in the past months, and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said in an interview that this is another sign of a broken system.

“I am deeply concerned and disturbed by a stoppage that has stranded hundreds of passengers out in the cold, away from home, with no clear means to get back,” he said Thursday night.

Train passengers took to Twitter and Facebook as they searched for alternate transportation or sat on stranded trains. Rep. Kim Fawcett of Fairfield posted to Twitter that her husband, a train commuter, was one of the first to abandon the train for “a long cab ride home.”

Jim Cameron, former chairman of the Connecticut Metro-North Commuter Council, said that the railroad “dropped the ball in communicating the crisis, short as it was.” Cameron said that he saw some “really ugly comments from those stranded” posted to Twitter.

Redeker said that the power outage at central control was “not a Metro-North issue, per se,” and that the railroad simply could not operate trains without a fully functioning signal system.

The railroad has come under serious criticism as a result of a series of train wrecks, derailments and internal scandals. Earlier this month, Howard Permut, the beleaguered president of Metro-North, announced that he would retire by the end of January.

In December, a high-speed train wreck killed four passengers in the Bronx, at the Spuyten Duyvil station on the Hudson Line.

A botched power station maintenance project affected New Haven line service for 12 days in September, forcing the railroad to severely curtail service, and to use buses or diesel trains to move passengers.

In May of last year, a derailment and two-train collision injured more than 70 crew and passengers in Bridgeport.

Also in May, a controller mistakenly gave the green light to a train that roared through a work zone and killed a track supervisor in West Haven.

In July, a freight train derailed on Metro-North tracks in the Bronx.

Metro-North also came under criticism for failing to report until days later that a train had hit and killed a pedestrian on a Westport bridge on Dec. 26.

Kelly Glista, Hartford Courant.

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