Amtrak: Computer problems spur service disruptions

June 23, 2011 8:57:35 PM PDT
Frustrated rail commuters waited out more delays Thursday night, when a second round of power problems disrupted service along the well-traveled Northeast Corridor between New York and Philadelphia.

It was the third time in three days commuters had to contend with unusually long waits and interrupted service.

Delays occurred in the Thursday morning commute, as well, and both instances were blamed on low voltage problems along the tracks that Amtrak said originated from a substation in Philadelphia.

In a statement issued Thursday night, Amtrak said the power failures were due to the primary computer and backup computer systems that control the converters that provide power on the tracks. They said they believe the issue will be resolved during the overnight hours and the Friday morning commute should be normal.

The computer system's manufacturer also was to send an engineer to the site to devise a more permanent fix.

Trains were held at stations for about 90 minutes at the start of Thursday night's rush hour and extensive delays occurred even after the trains started moving. Many commuters were left wondering when they would finally reach their destinations.

At Newark's Penn Station, befuddled commuters tried to make their way home. Many lined up at the doors of buses that flashed "no passengers" signs but whose drivers were shouting a list of destinations out the door, while loudspeaker announcements played in a loop about train delays and transportation alternatives, reminding people that tickets were being cross-honored.

"They are just randomly announcing things, the boards give all wrong times, and it's just chaos out here right now," said Shiv Prasad, 25, a Pennsylvania resident who was hoping to get an Amtrak train to Washington, D.C., to catch a plane after his flight out of Newark Liberty International Airport was canceled. "People are just running around. I just saw a lady crying because she missed her train."

Similar scenes were playing out in New York.

"I'm super frustrated," said Erica Fox, 38, a Connecticut resident who works for Google.

Fox was in New York City for a work meeting. She had been waiting at Penn Station for about an hour for a train to take her home to her two children.

"I'm wondering if my situation of commuting into the city each week is going to be viable," she said, looking tired and leaning on a pole. "I can't be two hours late for my kids every week."

Hundreds of other riders nearby anxiously waited in the hot, humid weather for trains to arrive.

"There seems to be a lot of delays. This is starting to become routine," Fox said.

Kelly Landais, 29, of Montclair left work early Thursday afternoon because she wasn't feeling well. But when she got to Penn Station, she learned that two home-bound trains had been canceled and she had no idea when the next one would depart.

"I'm tired and thirsty," she said while waiting at the station with her husband. "I just can't believe you pay so much for the trains, and this is what happens."

Similar travel delays occurred Thursday morning. Service was restored after about 45 minutes, but problems still persisted on commutes on Northeast Corridor and North Jersey Coast Line trains.


Associated Press reporter Cristian Salazar in New York City contributed to this report.