- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 24, 2010

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — Power problems forced Amtrak and regional transit agencies to halt trains throughout the Northeast for more than an hour Tuesday during the middle of the morning rush, stranding travelers in an all-too-familiar scenario.

Amtrak said low-voltage troubles forced it to suspend service between New York and Washington and between Philadelphia and Harrisburg, Pa., starting at 7:45 a.m.

The exact cause of the problem wasn’t immediately known, but Amtrak spokeswoman Karina Romero said it was more widespread than usual. Amtrak was focusing its investigation on the area between Washington and Perryville, Md., Ms. Romero said.

The railroad also was trying to tally the numbers of passengers affected.

The electrical problems also forced NJ Transit, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) and Maryland Transit Administration to halt their trains.

At Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station, business travelers stood around messaging on cell phones as all the trains on the schedule board were listed as delayed. Shortly after 9 a.m., railroad workers announced to waiting passengers that power had been restored and all trains would begin moving shortly.

Amtrak experienced residual delays throughout morning.

Riders on NJ Transit’s Northeast Corridor and North Jersey Coast trains faced delays of up to 90 minutes after trains started running again. SEPTA riders faced delays of up to an hour.

The Maryland Transit Administration also was forced to cancel a handful of trains.

The shutdown derailed the ride to work for commuters for the second time this month. On Aug. 11, a fallen tree knocked out power and rail signals, delaying East Coast trains for up to two hours.

Harold Kirsten, 60, of Avon, Conn., had to stay overnight in Philadelphia because storms canceled his flight Monday evening, and he was having a tough time leaving Tuesday morning because of the train delays. He was trying to make his way to Newark, N.J., for a business meeting.

“You learn over time to adapt; otherwise, you’ll have a nervous breakdown,” he said as he read a book on his iPad to pass the time.

Arad Shaiber, a 30-year-old software engineer from Philadelphia, was trying to get to work in Downingtown. His 9 a.m. train was posting a departure time of around 10:20 a.m., but he expected the delay to be longer.

“I’m frustrated, but I’m kind of used to it by now,” he said.

At Philadelphia’s Suburban Station, Amy Likoff of Bensalem, Pa., stopped at a customer service desk before heading off to her job at a law firm.

“This is where you have to get your excuse notes,” she said. “We get excused tardies if it’s SEPTA’s fault.”

In Washington’s Union Station, Airicka Pearson, 21, was waiting to go to Baltimore with her 1-year-old daughter, Airiell Rivers. Her 8:20 a.m. train was delayed more than an hour.

She said that she frequently takes the train and that delays are routine.

“It’s kind of hit and miss with them,” she said.

Barbara Strudler of New York met her 12-year-old granddaughter, Fay Smulowitz, at the Trenton, N.J., station to embark on a three-day tour of Baltimore.

“I’m glad I brought some food,” Ms. Strudler said once she noticed the 90-minute delays.

Meanwhile, Long Island Rail Road commuters faced delays and crowded trains Tuesday as the railroad worked to fix the damage from a switching station fire.

An electrical fire in a switching tower halted train service Monday for four hours and disrupted the evening commute. The LIRR canceled some trains Tuesday morning and said repairs could take several days.

The switching system damaged in the fire was installed in the 1920s, said LIRR spokesman Mike Charles. It features a network of pneumatic switches that control what tracks trains use entering and leaving the Jamaica depot.

Associated Press writers Randy Pennell, Patrick Walters and Erin Vanderberg in Philadelphia; Deepti Hajela in New York; Beth DeFalco in Trenton; and Jessica Gresko in Washington contributed to this story.



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