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Computer Glitch Halts Metro-North Trains For Nearly 2 Hours

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- A computer glitch suspended Metro-North service systemwide on the Hudson, Harlem and New Haven lines Thursday night, leaving all trains stranded for nearly two hours.

But even after service was restored, activity resumed only in a trickle. A spokesman said delays would persist throughout the night, but they hoped to return service to normal by the morning.

According to Metro-North, a signal issue caused the service outage at 7:45 p.m. Thursday. Amtrak passengers were also affected.

Computer Glitch Halts Metro-North Trains For Nearly 2 Hours

It was not until about 9:30 p.m. that temporary power was restored and trains began to move again. Metropolitan Transportation Authority spokeswoman Meredith Daniels told 1010 WINS' Larry Mullins trains were starting to leave Grand Central Station as of the 10 p.m. hour, but major delays were expected to persist for some time.

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Metro-North Service Suspended
A sign at Grand Central Terminal announcing that Metro-North service has been suspended. (Credit: CBS 2)

As 1010 WINS' Eileen Lehpamer reported, as late as 10 p.m., trains still were not moving out of Grand Central Station. CBS 2's Lou Young reported meanwhile that trains in Harlem were not moving and remained halted indefinitely as of that time.

Trains had to stop because the computer outage posed a danger, MTA officials explained.

"The power supply that controls the computer that controls all of the signals for Metro-North went dead," explained MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg. "And in the time it took us to get power restored to that, that meant every train couldn't move forward because the signal system was down."

The incident is the latest in a series of setbacks for the commuter railroad. In May, a Metro-North train derailed in Bridgeport, Conn., and collided with a passing train. In July, a freight train derailed in the Bronx. And in December, four people were killed when another Metro-North train derailed, also in the Bronx.

In September, a feeder cable in Mount Vernon failed, knocking out power for 12 days to Metro-North's New Haven line.

Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal was highly critical of Metro-North, telling WCBS 880 that Thursday night's problems are another sign that "Metro-North is a broken system."

"There has to be more than just coincidence with these incidents," Blumenthal said. " ... Metro-North really has a lot of soul searching to do, and hopefully the new leadership that is assuming authority later in this year, very shortly, will be able to complete the process of re-evaluation."

When the outage struck, rail traffic controllers instructed all engineers to bring their trains to a stop at the nearest station and allow passengers to exit if they wished.

But that did not work for every train. If an interlocking was on the route before a station, the train stopped at the interlocking and passengers were temporarily stuck on the trains.

Signal maintainers were sent out so the trains at the interlockings could head to stations.

Meanwhile, electricians began troubleshooting and working to establish temporary power.

The third rail continued to work, which meant there was heat and power on all trains affected by the suspension, CBS 2 reported.

MNR Grand Central
The scene at Grand Central Terminal during the Metro-North outage on Thursday, Jan. 23. (Credit: Burt Esrig)

But that hardly quelled the frustration among passengers.

As CBS 2's Jessica Schneider reported, a stranded sea of commuters was stuck for hours at Grand Central Terminal, without a word about what was happening and why they were suddenly left with no way home.

"I got there 20 minutes early, and usually I'm running late to the train, and I sat on there, and before you knew it I was on the train sitting there for an hour, not moving," said Steve Sferlazza of Norwalk, Conn., "and they made this announcement that the train was suspended indefinitely. So here we are."

Sferlazza left the comforts of the train to wait it out with the rest of the crowd. Passengers tweeted photos from inside the trains, many on their phones or computers to pass the time.

Meanwhile, signs only read that service was suspended, and there was no word when it would be restored.

"Everybody's just waiting it out," and answers were nowhere to be found, said Andres Jimenez of Ossining.

"The sound system here is blurred," Kevin Gallagher told WCBS 880's Peter Haskell. "A lot of people don't have anyone really telling them what the facts are. So it's frustrating to say the least."

Some ditched Grand Central and moving from rails to the roads. Rebecca Disbrow of Stamford, Conn., told CBS 2 she had decided to share a cab to Connecticut with four strangers.

At 125th Street station in East Harlem, the train was able to move up to the platforms and let people off. Most were picked up or sharing cars.

"It left grand central at 7:25. We went through the tunnel and stood there in one spot for about an hour and a half," said Lori Josephs of Dobbs Ferry.

Tim Rivera was on one of the trains that could not stop at a station. He was traveling to Tarrytown on the Hudson Line Thursday night and got stuck at 132nd Street and the Harlem River.

The train stopped after about 10 minutes, and conductors first announced signal problems, then computer problems, Rivera said.

"I'm supposed to get to Tarrytown sometime before dawn," Rivera said.

John Perugini said he was stranded for 20 to 25 minutes before passengers were reportedly told they were on their own to get where they were going.

"After about 20 to 25 minutes, they made an announcement that we were supposed to sort of fend for ourselves and find other forms of transportation to head for our destination," Perugini said.

Train operators said they would give more information when they received it, but "they gave up saying that," and simply said the line was indefinitely halted and everyone would have to figure out how to get to their destinations.

"They did not provide any kind of bus service, or any other kind of service," he said."

Another passenger, Dr. Gary Stager of Torrance, Calif., said conductors gave out boxes of "five-year shelf life emergency drinking water" to the stranded passengers.

MNR Service Suspended
Passenger, Dr. Gary Stager of Torrance, Calif., said conductors gave out boxes of "five-year shelf life emergency drinking water" to the stranded passengers during the Metro-North outage. (Credit: Dr. Gary Stager)

The cause of the outage remained under investigation Thursday night.

"We can't say what the cause of it is. We're still trying to figure that out," Daniels told 1010 WINS.

The MTA's Daniels and Lisberg both said they hoped all service would be back to normal by the time the Friday morning commute comes around. But commuters should check with Metro-North in the morning, she said.

The Port Jervis and Pascack Valley lines, which are NJ TRANSIT lines under contract with Metro-North, were not affected.

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