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Delayed trains moving again after tree falls on wires, catches fire

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Trains in Connecticut and Rhode Island have started moving again hours after New London Fire Department and Amtrak said a tree fell on wires over the tracks in New London on Saturday evening.

"The tree has been removed and Amtrak is working to resume service as soon as possibe," Olivia Irvin, public relations manager for Amtrak, said in an email late Saturday night.

A passenger on Train 167, which had stopped between stations north of New London, said the train had started moving again about 10:54 p.m. Train 169 also has since started moving again.

New London Fire Battalion Chief Mark Waters said the department got the call at 5:35 p.m. that a tree fell on the catenary wires — the overhead wires that power trains — and then caught on fire, and was burning on top of the wires. He said as of about 9:20 p.m., the tree was still on the wires, and Amtrak had crews on the tracks.

He said the tree fell down near the Ocean Avenue overpass. There were no injuries.

A darkened Amtrak train sat blocking the State Street crossing next to the city’s Union Station for several hours.

CC Walsh of Boston, who was heading home on the Amtrak train Saturday evening from a job interview in New York, said Amtrak Police and a conductor told her the train had hit some trees a couple of miles back, and the trees had caught fire.

“We were told power lines were down on both tracks,” she said.

Walsh said it took her a little while to realize the train had stopped moving about 5:30 p.m. The electricity on the train went out, and passengers were getting up and wandering around, she said. They waited well over an hour for a specialized team to arrive to deal with the downed power lines. The train ran out of water, she said.

Passengers eventually were allowed off the train. Walsh said she was told she could make alternate travel arrangements.

A Shore Line East train sat farther up the tracks. Several New Haven-bound passengers from that train clustered on the platform sitting on benches and stairs, their luggage scattered around them, waiting for the trains to start running again.

Waters said the fire department responded but has since turned the situation over to Amtrak. He said firefighters couldn't put out the fire due to the high-voltage power in the catenary wires, so they had to wait for the power to get shut off, which took about 45 minutes. He said once the power was shut off, the tree on top of the wires was still smoking, but it eventually stopped.

Maggie Vatter is one of the people stuck in New London, and she is trying to make it from New York back to Boston for her younger sister's wedding on Sunday morning.

She said she had gone to New York to pick up car parts for the 1966 Pontiac GTO she was going to give her sister as a wedding present. Speaking shortly after 9:30 p.m., Vatter had been stuck at Union Station for several hours.

She said passengers were getting periodic updates over the intercom but the updates were inconsistent about when they'd be leaving.

"It’s just kind of a mess, but I’m trying to keep good faith," she said.

Other passengers expressed frustration on Twitter about the lack of updates from Amtrak.

Amtrak Northeast tweeted at 6:33 p.m., "Due to fire department activity near the tracks, all trains operating west of New London (NLC) are stopped temporarily. Updates to follow as more information is provided." Amtrak said shortly thereafter that Train 88 was stopped in New London, Acela Train 2254 in New Haven, and Train 167 in Westerly.

Amtrak tweeted at 7:50 p.m. that Train 194 is stopped at Old Saybrook, at 8:43 p.m. that Train 169 is stopped at Kingston, and at 8:50 p.m. that Train 168 is stopped at New Haven, all "due to fire department activity near the tracks."

A message was left with Amtrak.

This is a developing story.

e.moser@theday.com

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