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Downed wire strands hundreds of train riders
By T.A. PARMALEE Staff Writer
METUCHEN -- A woman went into labor and other riders, frustrated by hours of waiting without any information, risked danger as they abandoned trains yesterday when a downed overhead wire delayed holiday travelers for hours.
Although Anna Farneski, a spokeswomen for NJ Transit, said there was a delay of about three hours, riders complained to The Times that it was much longer.
An Amtrak wire came down in Metuchen at about 10:15 a.m., wiping out signal communications along the Northeast Corridor and North Jersey Coast Line between New Brunswick and Newark, said Farneski.
About 25 New Jersey Transit and Amtrack trains were affected, she said.
Krystal Knapp, a Mercer County resident and staff writer for The Times, was on a New Jersey Transit train from Princeton when it halted about four miles from the New Brunswick station -- its first stop.
The train was stuck on the tracks for about six hours, she said. Although it was in an isolated area, about 100 people abandoned the train even as the conductor urged them not to.
"I saw them rolling down to the bottom of a hill that had barbed wire," Knapp said.
About five hours into the stalled ride, a woman went into labor, and 15 minutes later, a man went into diabetic shock, Knapp said.
When Knapp's train finally made it to the New Brunswick station, passengers were forced to either pay for taxi cab rides back into Mercer County or bus tickets from Suburban Transit.
According to Knapp, passengers were miffed because even though New Jersey Transit knew there was a problem, "they loaded up the trains anyway."
Knapp finally got back to her home in Mercer County at 8:30 p.m., and she was still not one inch closer to her destination in New York.
Also angered by the incident was Phyllis Spiegel, a Plainsboro resident who left from Princeton Junction at 11:12 a.m. and arrived in New Brunswick after 3 p.m.
In a fax to NJ Transit, Spiegel demanded that the railroad refund her fare. She wrote, "Riding your train is becoming a game of chance. Will we make it to the theater curtain or not?"
She questioned the company's lack of public relations, customer service and caring. "You need to have a plan in place for this kind of situation," she wrote.
Spiegel said the situation was exacerbated because there was no food or other necessities available during the long delay, especially for children on board the train.
"The only reason our train pulled into the New Brunswick station (we were outside the station for 2 1/2 hours) was that someone was ill and needed to be evacuated," she wrote.
When contacted last night, Farneski said, "We realize that hundreds of people have been inconvenienced today in the middle of a holiday weekend. I can't tell you at this moment what we'll be doing in terms of refunds, but we will be reviewing the situation and considering a range of options. It's a shame that so many of our customers were delayed on this very important weekend."
Responding to questions about a lack of food during the delays and other concerns, Farneski said, "It was an unexpected situation. We tried to do the best we could. Certainly we'll be reviewing what happened and how we can learn from this."
Yesterday afternoon, the trains were moving, but slowly. They were being guided manually and alternating with Amtrak trains. As of 9:30 p.m., the trains were running smoothly again, but customers still faced delays of 20 minutes to an hour, Farneski said.
Calls to Amtrak last night by The Times were not returned.
-- Doris (firstname.lastname@example.org), December 24, 2000