Published September 25. 2013 7:00AM Updated September 26. 2013 9:33AM
Hartford — Broken electrical equipment interrupted rush-hour rail commutes into and out of New York City and snarled rail service as far south as Washington on Wednesday, and the problem could take weeks to repair, a utility said as it sought a power alternative for the trains.
The delays began when a high-voltage feeder cable failed early in the morning in Mount Vernon, N.Y., a suburb north of New York City. Another feeder that could have powered the trains was out for equipment upgrades, said the Con Edison utility, which serves the New York City area.
Tens of thousands of people in the densely populated suburbs north of New York City and into Connecticut use the Metro-North commuter railroad, the nation’s second-largest.
On Wednesday afternoon, Metro-North said it would provide limited service on hourly diesel trains that would make all local stops. The service accommodates 10 percent of its regular ridership on the line between New York City’s Grand Central Terminal and New Haven, and riders were urged to expect crowded stations and to find alternative service.
The broken circuit could take two to three weeks to repair, Con Ed said.
Metro-North said it was developing a Thursday morning train and bus shuttle schedule, and spokeswoman Marjorie Anders advised commuters to find another way into and out of New York.
“It will be crowded. It will be slow,” she said in an email. “Seek alternate means.”
The delays had a ripple effect. Interstate 95 saw significant traffic congestion Wednesday morning in Connecticut, where it runs near the railroad. Traffic eased somewhat by early afternoon, from 20-mile backups to traffic jams a few miles long, the Connecticut Department of Transportation reported.
And Amtrak, which runs along the same Metro-North corridor, advised passengers that service in the Northeast was operating with significant delays. Acela Express service was suspended between New York and Boston, and service between New York and Washington was delayed.
If no alternative source of power is found, that could mean weeks of longer, more congested commutes.
Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy urged commuters to avoid Metro-North and carpool or work from home if possible.
“This is going to be a substantial disruption for a substantial period of time,” he said, adding that service will be restored by Oct. 14, when the second electricity feeder was slated to go back online, but that he hoped the trains would be running sooner.
Irate passengers vented online, and the head of a commuter advisory group complained that rail service was disrupted frequently over the summer for needed track work in New York. Wednesday’s disruption, though not Metro-North’s fault, adds to frustration among commuters, commuter advocate Jim Cameron said.
“It means commuters must have a Plan B and a Plan C,” he said.
During the evening rush hour at Grand Central Terminal, hundreds of frustrated commuters who rely on the out-of-service New Haven line scrambled to come up with alternative routes.
Attorney Robert Drucker said he was looking at a 2½-hour commute, more than twice his usual 55-minute trip, back to his Stamford, Conn., home. On Wednesday morning, Drucker drove his car to a White Plains, N.Y., station on a different Metro-North line, parked it and took a different train into the city.
“There was so much traffic, with everybody lined up,” he said of his early morning commute, as he prepared for the evening trip ahead of him. “It’ll take forever.”