A crush of commuters swamped the Long Island Rail Road Tuesday morning with thousands waiting for hours to board trains in Jamaica, riders showing up in the predawn to buy tickets in Forest Hill and a sea of passengers jamming Penn Station in the evening rush hour.
"People. People. A sea of people," said Merle Marcy, 42, from Richmond Hill at Penn Station, where during the evening rush hour the railroad closed two entrances to limit access and waived fares to get the crowds moving. "I have no idea where I'm going. I guess the Long Island Rail Road wasn't prepared for the onslaught of all the passengers."
It was a cold, chaotic commute for many riders of the LIRR yesterday, as tens of thousands of additional passengers took the system when city subway and bus workers went on strike early Tuesday. The LIRR handled 50,000 more riders during the morning rush hour than the 100,000 it normally does, railroad officials said, with about 30,000 at Jamaica alone.
Railroad officials acknowledged they took on a huge undertaking, providing services the railroad is not designed or equipped to handle.
"We knew we were going to have problems with Jamaica," said LIRR President James Dermody. "We worked with the MTA police and the New York police in order to set up effective crowd control ... When the people started to really build up, we looked at where we were getting a backup. If the backup was collection of tickets, we stopped collecting and moved people."
The special $4 strike fare was part of the railroad's contigency plan and not available in advance of the strike, LIRR spokesman Brian Dolan said. Commuters could have purchased regular tickets in advance, however. Railroad officials had said it would take up to 24 hours after a strike was called to implement the plan.
Dermody waived fares, allowing passengers to board trains, and a shuttle service through Queens started earlier than anticipated, rolling out at 5:30 a.m., just hours after the union called the strike at 3 a.m.
Confusion reigned in Forest Hills as LIRR workers offered conflicting information about how to purchase tickets. Some told commuters they could not walk up to the platform and use the ticket machines without waiting. Others announced over bullhorns that there was no wait at the machines and encouraged riders to use them to bypass the lines at a temporary ticket window.
Danielle Gerard, 25, a financial analyst from Middle Village, shivered near the end of the LIRR ticket line about 9 a.m. She still had to make it downtown to her office on Vestry Street.
"I've got to take the PATH train to Christopher Street and walk -- I think," she said. "I don't where the hell I'm going."
Railroad officials said New York City Transit typically serves 40,000 riders an hour on the Queens Boulevard corridor during the rush hour.
"We can handle an additional 8-to-10,000 an hour," Dermody said. "If all the people show up, there is a long wait before we can start queueing people up and letting them in."
Railroad cars that held 118 people were loaded with 140 to 150 people per car, he said.
The railroad's full strike plan goes into effect Wednesday, meaning the LIRR will only stop at key hub stations in Queens between 6 and 9 a.m. The LIRR stopped at all Queens stations during the rush hour Tuesday.
Today, the railroad will stop at Bayside on the Port Washington branch, Queens Village, Valley Stream, and Laurelton on the Far Rockaway-Long Beach line between 6 and 9 a.m., running service every 15 to 20 minutes.
Service will run west of Jamaica every 15 minutes, stopping at Kew Gardens, Forest Hills and Woodside and Penn during the rush hour. After the rush hour, shuttle train service at other Queens stations will run every 20-30 minutes.
Dermody said crowds can again be expected at Queens stations Wednesday.
Staff writer John Valenti and Karla Schuster contributed to this story.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times