2010_08_lirrdel.jpgYesterday, a fire at a switching tower east of the Jamaica Station sent the Long Island Rail Road into chaos, suspending all lines (except the Port Wasington line) for much of yesterday. By the evening, service was delayed and limited: Usually about 100,000 commuters leave Manhattan during the evening rush, but many waited hours to crowd onto a train. Now the MTA says LIRR service is at "75% of normal capacity" and a return to normal service is "days away."

According to the MTA website, "Customers should plan to leave earlier than normal to allow for additional travel time, as some trains will be cancelled and others will additional station stops. Scheduled connections will not be available at Jamaica Station, but customers will be able to transfer between trains at Jamaica. LIRR station personnel will be available at Jamaica to assist customers." It's hoped that service will be at 60% of normal capacity.

As for the fire, the NY Times reports, "Two or more cables shorted out around 11 a.m., the authorities said, sending a pulse of electricity into a nearby train control tower and setting fire to the century-old equipment inside. It seems improbable that a piece of ancient machinery, a contraption of levers and pulleys designed in 1913, would be critical to the successful operation of one of the nation’s largest commuter railroads. But the machinery, which remained on fire for about an hour, controls the 155 track switches at a crucial choke point: Jamaica Station, which 10 of the railroad’s 11 branches must travel through to get in and out of New York City."