Commuters Face Nightmare As Metro-North Scrambles To Get Passengers Around Crash Site

As Monday morning’s commute began, just days after a train crash in Bridgeport that crippled rail lines, the roughly 125,000 commuters who rely on Metro-North rail line and thousands of other travelers braced for a potential nightmare of detours and traffic jams.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said delays and disruptions are possible throughout the coming week for commuters who take the Metro-North Commuter Railroad into New York City and for those who drive into the city.

Sandy McKissick of Madison works in the city. He was taking a train from New Haven toward Bridgeport on Monday morning.

“It seems like they have a pretty good plan in place … I am optimistic,” he said. The station isn’t “anywhere near normal. It’s normally crowded.”

McKissick said he usually takes the 5:55 a.m. train into the city and that he didn’t really change his travel plans in light of the services changes.

Dashon Burton of New Haven said he travels into the city one or two days a week for work, today being one of the only days this week he needed to get in. He said he came a little early.

“It must be really intense getting into town for 9 a.m.,” he said.

He said he thinks there has been a “Herculean effort” put into the service this morning and wasn’t too concerned about being late because of service changes.

Around 6:30 a.m., traffic was picking up along the shoreline, with delays reported on I-95 south of Bridgeport.

During peak commuting hours, trains will run about every 20 minutes between New Haven and Bridgeport on the New Haven line. Shuttle buses will take commuters between Bridgeport and Stamford, bypassing the site of the accident between the Bridgeport and Fairfield stations. Commuters can take an express bus or a bus stopping at the Fairfield Metro, Fairfield and Westport stations.

Regular service will run from Stamford and South Norwalk stations to Grand Central Terminal in New York City; limited service will run from Westport.

“The shuttle services will be operating, but it will be very difficult for customers,” said James Redeker, commissioner of the state’s Department of Transportation. “There will be lines, it will take longer and it’s going to be a difficult commute if that’s your option.”

Fairfield police were preparing for a frenzied commute on Monday. On the department’s Facebook page Sunday, it warned: “Commuters need to be prepared for a long commute on Monday. Please make alternate plans and please consider staying home if possible.”

The department said I-95 is expected to be “overloaded,” and that Metro-North will have buses available – but not enough for the thousands of passengers that travel through the area by train.

About 150 buses will be in service to accommodate the passengers, Malloy said.

Malloy said Monday’s commute will be “extremely challenging.” He said he plans to partially activate the state’s emergency operations center Monday morning to coordinate resources.

“We want to limit to the greatest extent the number of people using the highway system because we know it is going to be well over capacity,” Malloy said.

“To everyone that uses the highway system, consider carpooling,” he added. “We really need you to do this. I am not simply talking to people who use the train system normally.”

Stephen J. Humes, a Hamden resident, said he practices law in New York and takes the train from New Haven into the city three to four days a week. He was working from home on Friday when the accident happened, but said he’s concerned about Monday’s commute.

“I am certainly waiting with great interest. … I do rely on that service to get to New York,” Humes said. He added that his son John, a freshman at Fairfield Prep, uses the train to get to school.

Humes added that Monday’s commute is going to be “hellacious,” with people taking I-95 to get to the train station in Stamford.

Average weekday traffic on the New Haven line is 125,000 passengers, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Amtrak service continues to be suspended between New York and New Haven, with limited Amtrak service available between Boston and New Haven.

The MTA, which operates the Metro-North trains, began removing the trains Saturday night. By Sunday night, 13 of the 16 derailed cars had been removed, and the other three will be removed within the next 24 hours, Metro-North Railroad President Howard Permut said.

Of the more than 70 people injured in the crash, seven remained hospitalized on Sunday, with one reported in critical condition, officials said.

Officials with the National Transportation Safety Board, who have been on the scene since Saturday, said they have ruled out foul play as a cause of the derailment, but would not speculate beyond that. They released the site to Metro-North Sunday so restoration can begin; additional on-scene investigation could continue for several days.

After the trains are removed, MTA officials said crews face the longer, more difficult task of repairing the damage to the track.

“Our crews will essentially be rebuilding 2,000 feet of damaged track, and overhead wires and signal system,” Permut said in a statement. “This amounts to the wholesale reconstruction of a two-track electrified railroad. It will take multiple days of around-the-clock work to do that, and then to inspect, test and requalify the newly rebuilt infrastructure. Unfortunately, service disruptions on this section of the New Haven Line are expected to continue well into the coming week.”

Investigators said on Saturday evening that they found a fracture in a section of the eastbound track, where the derailment apparently began. But the investigators are unsure whether the fracture happened before the derailment or as a result of it.

Safety board officials said those sections of the rail are being sent to the agency’s laboratory in Washington, D.C., for further analysis.

NTSB investigators said MTA has been responsive to requests for maintenance and inspection reports on the cars of the two trains involved, and will conduct a full inspection. The train that previously traveled that route also will be inspected.

“None of this is going to happen quickly,” said Jim Cameron, chairman of the Connecticut Metro-North Rail Commuter Council, adding that the NTSB investigation can’t be rushed because the cause of the accident needs to be discovered to prevent it from happening again.

“Commuters should leave early, think creatively and don’t all drive to Stamford,” Cameron said.

“This is unknown territory to a lot of these people,” he said.

The derailment took place at 6:10 p.m. on Friday, when the eastbound 4:41 p.m. train out of Grand Central Terminal in New York went off the tracks just east of the Fairfield Metro station, said Marjorie Anders, an MTA spokeswoman. It then hit the side of a westbound 5:35 p.m. Metro-North train from New Haven on the adjacent track. Some cars on the second train also derailed, Anders said.

Of the 46 people brought to St. Vincent’s Medical Center, four people were still at the hospital Sunday evening and remained in stable condition, spokeswoman Dianne Auger said.

At Bridgeport Hospital, 23 people were treated and released. One person remains there in critical condition with traumatic, impact-related injuries, and two others are in stable condition, hospital officials said Sunday evening.

Passengers said they felt a harsh bump and saw a lot of dust and smoke in the air as the train derailed. Malloy said it appeared that one train began to derail as it approached the other, and the trains hit side-to-side.

Malloy said most of the injuries were in the cars that collided with each other, mainly the front car of one train and the third car of the other.

An NTSB team began a first round of interviews Sunday with the crews from the eastbound and westbound trains, the agency’s Earl Weener said.

Officials have already downloaded data on speed and braking from recorders on board the trains, Weener said.

At the time of the accident, Weener said, the trains were moving at about 70 mph – a typical speed for the line. Review of the data will continue on scene and in Washington, D.C.

“All of the teams have been working around the clock to gather information and facts that will help us determine what caused the accident and what we can do to prevent it from happening again,” Weener said.

Weener estimates the full report on the accident could take up to a year.

By NICHOLAS RONDINONE

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