Sunnyside Amtrak derailment snarls LIRR evening commute

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An Amtrak train leaving Penn Station in Manhattan partially derailed Monday, blocking a set of shared tracks and causing delays for Long Island Rail Road commuters.

Several cars of a Boston-bound train carrying 147 passengers slipped off the tracks near the Sunnyside Yards shortly before 1 p.m. after pulling out of a tunnel that connects Queens to Penn Station under the East River, according to Cliff Cole, a spokesman for Amtrak. That left the train blocking one of the eastbound tracks out of Penn Station during rush hour, which begins around 4 p.m.

“Access to that tunnel was limited,” he said.

No injuries were reported and the train was put back on the rails and taken to the yards at about 6:30 p.m., Cole said

The derailment caused delays for the LIRR, according to the railroad’s spokesman, Sal Arena.

“There are two eastbound tracks coming out of the East River tunnels that normally we would be sharing with Amtrak and using ourselves,” he said.

During the day, the one tunnel can handle the LIRR’s traffic. But once rush hour begins at 4:30 p.m., both tracks are needed as the LIRR starts running more trains to accommodate the glut of straphangers who arrive at Penn Station.

Because it had only one track to operate on, the LIRR had to cancel 16 of the 125 trains it runs during rush hour.

Those cancellations delayed, for example, a commuter who would normally take the 6 p.m. train. That person had to wait for a 6:15 p.m. or 6:30 p.m. train, which was more crowded with more passengers riding a fewer amount of trains.

“Relatively speaking, it went smoothly,” Arena said.

The location of the derailment also played a role.

“It came to a halt and derailed right on top of an LIRR switching point,” Arena said.

If the train had derailed slightly farther east, the LIRR might have been able to divert traffic around the stranded Amtrak train.

The passengers on the Boston-bound train were taken back to Penn Station and boarded a later train.

As of Tuesday morning, both Amtrak and LIRR trains returned to the schedule before the derailment.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4566.

Updated 10:41 am, October 12, 2011
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