Metro-North service expected to be normal after Harlem bridge fire
Metro-North service expected to be normal after Harlem bridge fireMartin B. Cassidy, Stamford Advocate - Monday, September 20, 2010Michelle Byrnes, of Buffalo, N.Y., may have chosen the wrong day to take the train into New York City for the first time to visit her brother.
After hearing she might have to board a train headed to Yankee Stadium and then take a subway into the city due to a fire under the Harlem River Bridge, Byrnes said she became flustered.
"I'm not equipped to be lost there," Byrnes said, referring to Yankee Stadium.
By late afternoon Monday, Metro-North Railroad restored service to all four tracks on the Harlem River railroad bridge after an 11:40 a.m. fire under the span stopped all rail service to and from Grand Central Terminal, Metro-North spokeswoman Marjorie Anders said.
Firefighters extinguished the fire around 1:35 p.m., according to Frank Dwyer, a spokesman for New York City Fire Department, with no injuries. The cause of the fire is still being determined, but does not appear suspicious, Dwyer said.
The fire originated in a 135-foot long structure of wooden pilings at the base of the bridge that provides a protective barrier keeping it from being struck by passing vessels, Anders said; the bridge was unscathed except for two power cables on its south side.
At the Stamford, Bridgeport, and Greenwich train stations Monday, commuters who found themselves stranded and trying to decide if they should wait for service to resume.
Metro-North Railroad restored off-peak service by 2:25 p.m., and service to all four tracks by 4:15 p.m.
Trains already underway when the fire occurred were stopped at the nearest station. After Darien resident James Garvey's 11:44 a.m. train to Manhattan was stopped in New Rochelle, N.Y., he returned to Stamford on another train hoping to find another way into the city.
Garvey said with two colleagues out sick Monday, his presence was needed at work, but he balked at buying what he said was an $83 Amtrak ticket.
"I'm hoping I can get in there," he said.
Sheniqua Little was at the Bridgeport train station with plenty of time to listen to her iPod as she waited for the 1:18 p.m. train to take her to Grand Central. The only problem was that service into Grand Central was suspended.
"This is not good," Little, 19, said.
Little, a Bridgeport resident, is studying at the New York School of Interior Design and the 1:18 p.m. train was supposed to get her to New York City by 2:40 p.m., leaving her with enough time to make it to her 3 p.m. class.
"I haven't heard anything," she said, as she waited on the platform.
People's United Bank employees David Lewis, of Waterford, and Ken Nuzzolo, of Oxford, were headed into the city on business, but heard the news about the Harlem fire. The men bought Amtrak tickets to Manhattan's Penn Station rather than chance extended delays restoring rail service or a combined train-bus ride.
Station announcements didn't acknowledge the ongoing fire, or suspension.
"They just said that there was a 13-minute delay for the 12:18 into Grand Central," Lewis said.
"Normally, these things start out as a slow bleed, and then the wound opens up," Nuzzolo said, as the length of delays continue to grow.
During the service stoppage, southbound Metro-North service was terminated at the Yankee Stadium train station, according to the railroad's temporary service plan. Riders would then transfer to subways for the ride to Manhattan.
In Greenwich, Paul Mellon, manager of Le Pain Quotidien on Greenwich Avenue, was heading downtown Manhattan for a 3:30 p.m. company meeting. He decided to wait for a train rather than arrange a carpool with two other managers who commute to Connecticut.
"This still is easier than trying to drive in the city, especially with the U.N. summit," Mellon said, referring to the United Nations General Assembly which will tie up traffic in New York City for several days.
Anders said Metro-North engineers examined the bridge after the fire was extinguished to confirm it was safe for travel.
"The main fuel for the fire were the old wooden posts that were driven into the river for the sole purpose of protecting the bridge," Anders said. "Of course now we need to replace that immediately because a barge could hit the bridge and do some damage."
Dwyer said 12 companies including 70 firefighters responded to the blaze, but that the successful dousing of the blaze was mostly due to two firefighting boats Marine 6 and Marine 4 who used river water to put out the fire.
"One of the biggest challenges of this fire was getting water onto it," Dwyer said. "Many of the firefighters weren't able to get close to the fire and there are not a lot of hydrants in the immediate area."
Staff Writers Genevieve Reilly and Lisa Chamoff and Correspondent Harold Davis contributed to this story.