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Morning Collision At Penn Station Snarls Travel Through Evening

UPDATED 03/25/17 12:24 a.m.

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Commuters faced a difficult ride Friday evening after an incoming NJ TRANSIT train was hit when an Amtrak train leaving Penn Station derailed during the morning rush hour.

As CBS2's Jessica Moore reported, NJ TRANSIT began offering limited service for trains leaving Penn Station late Friday afternoon. MidTown Direct trains were still operating in and out of Hoboken.

Hours earlier around 9 a.m., Acela Express Train 2151 from Boston was pulling out of Penn on its way to Washington D.C. when Amtrak said it had "a minor derailment while moving at a slow speed."

MORE: Check Amtrak | Check NJ TRANSIT | Check LIRR | Photos

The wheel of the train had slipped off the tracks and that changed the space between trains, causing the Acela to sideswipe an NJ TRANSIT train in the adjoining lane, CBS2's Moore reported.

Passengers on board the NJ TRANSIT train described the impact.

"We were just pulling into the station, not going very fast and I guess another train that was leaving hit us really hard and it basically sideswiped us," Jennifer Hutzel told 1010 WINS.

"It was pretty freaky," added Jordan Geary, who was on the NJ TRANSIT train on the way in from Montclair, New Jersey.

"I was looking at my phone and I felt a giant explosion next to my head, and my window caved in," Geary said. "Thankfully, it didn't hit my head."

Geary described a horrifying experience.

"In the millisecond after that, this other train departing Penn Station raked the side of our train, popping in all the windows and knocking doors ajar and ripping metal off our car," he said.

Amtrak said there were 248 passengers and crew on board its train at the time. It said the train was still near the platform and that everyone was able to safely leave the train.

The Office of Emergency Management said three of the Amtrak passengers suffered minor injuries.

One man was carried out of the Acela club on a stretcher, but Amtrak would not confirm whether his injuries were one of the three reported.

Carmen Abelo of Miami survived a severe derailment in 1985. She was in the train behind the one that derailed, and she said it brought back traumatic memories.

"I was scared and praying that everything will come out OK," she said.

Other trains coming into Penn had to reverse on the tracks and find another way inside the station.

On Twitter, Mayor Bill de Blasio said, "Thankfully we're hearing there were no serious injuries at Penn Station after derailment of an Amtrak train."

Police taped off the stairs leading down to tracks 1 through 4, as inspectors with the Federal Railroad Association examined the trains and the track trying to determine what went wrong.

Late Friday afternoon, stranded commuters were still dealing with the aftermath.

"I spent my whole day coming here and waiting here, and it's going to be even worse -- if I have to go home and unpack everything -- It's going to be really annoying," said Jessica Staniszewski of Marine Park, Brooklyn.

"I'm just trying to go home and get some good food and they're canceling all the trains," another commuter complained.

Jeff Spiteri of Metuchen was in relatively good spirits as he stared up at the board – waiting and praying for his train to flash up a track number instead of a cancellation sign.

"These things always seem to happen on Fridays, so it's par for the course," Spiteri said.

Nan Merkingler of Little Silver was one of the unlikely ones who was on a train heading to the city when the derailment happened.

"I had to get off in Newark, take the PATH to the World Trade Center, then take a subway from the world trade center back to here," she said.

Merklinger stood waiting for two hours at Penn Station before finally boarding a North Jersey Coast Line train to go home.

The Long Island Rail Road was also affected, CBS2's Scott Rapoport reported. Early Friday afternoon, the LIRR began urging customers to try to leave the city before 4 p.m. If they could not do so, they were advised to delay their departures until after 8 p.m.

LIRR commuter Steve Cowit decided to delay his ride home, but he was not happy about it.

"It's going to be a crowded, packed train," he told CBS2's Scott Rapoport. "I probably won't get a seat. I'm going to be standing wall to wall."

The LIRR, which normally has nine departure tracks at Penn Station for the evening rush, was reduced to only four tracks – a reduction of more than 50 percent.

In all, the LIRR said, 29 evening rush-hour trains were cancelled

Riders from both the LIRR and NJ TRANSIT felt the pinch, and did not like it at all.

"Trains are garbage," one rider said. "What can I say?"

"All my trains to the Northeast Corridor are canceled," added John Herrera. "I need to get home now. Now I've got to find out what I'm going to do."

Later, March Madness turned into commuter craziness. But nothing could keep NCAA basketball fans away from Madison Square Garden for the Sweet 16 matchup -- not even major train delays.

"Three and a half hours from the time I got on the train, from the time my train was scheduled, from the time I got in," said LIRR commuter Ross Mallor.

Delays, cancellations and confusion punctuated the evening commute home for Long Island Railroad in New Jersey transit riders at Penn station.

Click here to see the full list of transit changes.

The LIRR operated on near normal schedules out of Atlantic Terminal, Brooklyn and Jamaica, Woodside and Hunterspoint Avenue, Queens.

NJ TRANSIT said almost all of its trains went to Penn Station, but riders were advised to check the NJ TRANSIT website ahead of time.

Amtrak Acela Express and Northeast Regional service between Newark and New York is also subject to delays.

Keystone service was ending and originating in Newark where passengers can transfer to Northeast Regional trains into New York. Empire service passengers were transferred to Metro-North for service in and out of Grand Central Terminal.

Both NJ TRANSIT and the LIRR plan to resume their normal weekend schedule on Saturday.

The cause of the derailment remained under investigation late Friday. While the incident may have seemed small, City College of New York civil engineering professor Robert "Buzz" Paaswell told CBS2's Tracee Carrasco there is no such thing as a minor derailment.

"Right now the question mark is about why did it derail -- especially in Penn Station?" Paaswell said.

Paaswell said a number of things could have caused the derailment.

"There could have been something wrong with the wheels on the train that maintenance didn't catch," Paaswell said, "or maybe something happened to an axle, or a wheel might have gotten loose -- these are all very tentative."

According to Amtrak, the Acela Express is the fastest train in the Western Hemisphere, with a maximum speed of 150 mph. Its top speed between New York City and Washington, D.C. is 135 mph.

Approximately 45.7 million passengers have traveled on the fleet of 20 Acela Express trains in the 16 years since the service began in 2000.

Paaswell said while it is important to look at the train, he said the infrastructure at Penn Station could be the bigger issue.

"It's a major transportation hub. It needs more tender loving care," Paaswell said. "In the end, what you need is a well-maintained and well-operating system and that takes money."

CBS2 was waiting for answers from Amtrak late Friday on the specific Acela train that had the accident – how old it was, when it was last serviced, and how long the trains last.

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