Amtrak power failure delays trains

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NEW YORK – Thousands of sweaty and frustrated commuters were stranded for hours Thursday when an Amtrak power failure knocked out train service from New York to Washington.

Passengers sweltered in pitch-black tunnels or were forced to walk along tracks to safety after the juice went dry at the height of the morning rush hour.

“It was horrible,” said Raj Jain, 39, whose hourlong commute to Manhattan from Paterson, N.J., turned into a 5 1/2-hour ordeal. “We were never given a clear picture of what was going on.”

Power was out for nearly three hours, affecting not only Amtrak, but also commuter lines in New Jersey, Maryland and Pennsylvania.

At least 10,000 riders were stranded aboard NJTransit trains.

Passengers complained bitterly that train personnel had little or no information about what was happening – and no concrete plan to get riders to safety.

“If it was a real terrorist attack, we’d be in real trouble,” said John Cirillo, 44, of Monroe, N.Y. “It just proved that they’re not ready.”

Two pregnant women were hospitalized for observation when they arrived at Penn Station after waiting in stalled trains for more than three hours. There were no serious injuries.

A third pregnant woman, who refused medical help, brushed off her underground ordeal.

“I was in the World Trade Center. I was in the blackout. This is nothing,” said the brave 38-year-old from Edison, N.J., who is five months pregnant. “We just wanted to leave.”

Amtrak said power was restored by 11 a.m.

But frazzled NJTransit commuters also were delayed on the ride home because trains were running on a limited schedule, forcing many to take PATH trains to Hoboken and transfer.

Adam Stepien sat for two hours in a stalled train in the morning, and braced for a second long ride in the afternoon.

“What can I do?” asked Stepien, 33, of Short Hills, N.J. “My day is pretty much ruined.”

Officials with NJTransit, which uses Amtrak right-of-way, said full service would be restored by this morning.

Amtrak said it did not know what caused the power loss but engineers were working to pinpoint a cause. Trains up and down the busy corridor between New York and Washington coasted to a stop about 8:15 a.m.

Camaraderie turned to grinding boredom and stifling stench as bathrooms failed and warm temperatures heated up cars.

Joe Piasecki was among scores of passengers who walked more than a mile to a station from a stalled NJTransit train near Elizabeth, N.J.

“It’s a kind of eerie, end-of-the-world feel,” said Piasecki, of Washington Crossing, Pa. “You have these two trains sitting here dead, not moving.”

The snafu ruined a precious outing for Steve Lowe of Brooklyn and his son, Cole, 5, who were headed to Washington to catch a Nationals baseball game.

“He’s been looking forward to this for months now. This is his first train ride, and his first baseball game,” said Lowe, 31. “I hope he understands.”

The train trouble was just the latest blow to Amtrak, which has struggled financially for years as riders have shunned its often-erratic service.

Amtrak took its fancy new Acela Express trains off the track last year for almost five months after finding brake problems – forcing 10,000 riders a day to make new plans or ride slower Metroliners.

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