BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Metro-North officials announced Monday afternoon that normal service on the New Haven line is set to resume for the Wednesday morning commute.
“We are confident that the reconstruction work, inspection and testing will be completed in time for a normal rush hour on Wednesday,” said Metro-North President Howard Permut. “We are grateful for the tireless work of all departments and employees engaged in this huge task.”
Meanwhile, CBS 2 has learned the engineer of the train that derailed told the National Transportation Safety Board that he saw a broken or dislodged track as he approached, but couldn’t stop the train in time to avoid derailing.
More than 100 crew members have been working around the clock since Saturday night to quickly repair the damaged track and overhead power lines.
As CBS 2’s Lou Young reported, as of Monday night, crews had finished work on the overhead power lines and damaged signals at the crash site. But rebuilding the 2,000 feet of damaged rail is no simple matter.
Still, Wednesday is much sooner than Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy expected to see service return.
“The New Haven Line should be fully operation on Wednesday. I have to say that this is due to the extraordinary work of Metro-North, the federal officials in clearing and our own state DOT. This is very, very good news and something that we did not think could be accomplished,” Malloy said at a news conference Monday evening. “Full operations are expected to begin on Wednesday morning. What this means is this is tremendously good news. However, it also means that we’re going to have one more day of great difficulty, and that’s tomorrow.”
“We’ve actually made great progress in terms of the work that’s needed to restore the catenary wires, power, working on signals, and obviously the track that needs to be completely relaid,” MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz told CBS 2’s Tony Aiello earlier Monday.
Commuters at Grand Central Terminal on Monday evening were relieved to hear that the commute was only moderately frustrating and that service will be back sooner than anticipated.
“I got up at 5 o’clock in the morning today to be at work on time,” a Stratford resident told WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond. “My husband had to drive me to Bridgeport, then I took the bus to Stamford and from Stamford on, it was OK.”
Commuter Jeff Lewis of Stamford said he’s glad things will be back to normal on Wednesday.
“It sounded pretty bad but they can be pretty thorough when they do their work,” he told Diamond.
Sue Taylor said her morning commute was a breeze.
“It was empty and then when the train stopped in Stamford, nobody got on. It was amazing,” she told Diamond.
Railroad officials in Connecticut said the morning commute went as well as can be expected following Friday’s train collision that injured 72 people and has shut down service.
Still, Connecticut commuters planned for long, slow trips to and from work Monday following last week’s collision.
“It’s just been delays, but everything’s worked out OK,” one commuter said.
It took Gary Maddin of Milford an hour to make what is normally a 20-minute drive from his home to the Bridgeport train station. From there, he planned to board a shuttle bus to Stamford where he could catch a train to Grand Central Station.
“It’s a lot,” he said. “It’s a nightmare just to get into the city today.”
“I went into the city last night to avoid the morning mayhem and I think when they get some more trains up the line it’ll be a little bit easier,” commuter Keith Doyle told CBS 2’s Young.
Ridership on the New Haven line was off 20 percent Monday. People Monday night bracing for the possibility that Tuesday could be the worst of the inconvenience.
Alternate Service In Place For Commuters
Metro-North is using a fleet of 120 buses at the Bridgeport train station to help New Haven service line commuters make their way around the scene of Friday’s train accident and help get them to New York City.
A shuttle train operated about every 20 minutes during rush hour between New Haven and Bridgeport. Shuttle buses are running between the Bridgeport and Stamford stations, where commuters can then board trains for the final leg of their commute.
Buses are also running local service between Bridgeport, Fairfield Metro, Fairfield and Westport stations.
“This is the first time that Metro-North has become involved with this kind of magnitude of a bus shuttle on the New Haven main line,” MTA spokesperson Aaron Donovan told 1010 WINS.
According to MTA officials, about 750 people rode the local shuttle buses during the morning rush hour on Monday. The data shows that most commuters drove to a different station to catch a New York-bound train.
In total, about 2,700 people rode shuttle buses from the morning rush through 3 p.m., according to the MTA.
For morning and evening peak commutes, limited train service was to operate between Grand Central Terminal and Westport.
State officials said travel times would be significantly longer than normal and trains would be crowded. Commuters are advised to use the Harlem line in New York.
“I was looking at the bus schedule online and it looks like it added another hour and a half to what’s already an hour and a half plus driving time to New Haven,” New York-bound passenger Bridgette Hing told CBS 2’s Young. “Came here.”
Train service remains suspended between New Haven and South Norwalk. Amtrak service between New York and New Haven also has been suspended and there is no estimate on service restoration.
Rail Riders Hit The Road
Many decided to drive instead. State transportation officials said traffic on Interstate 95 and the Merritt Parkway was at a crawl Monday morning, with the trip between Bridgeport and Stamford estimated at about an hour during the height of the rush hour. The trip normally takes about 25 minutes.
Officials said while traffic was bad, it wasn’t the nightmare many thought it would be. Jim Cameron of the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council had initially feared drivers would be facing “carmageddon” Monday morning.
“The trains that were running from South Norwalk to Grand Central seemed to be on time and were far from being full,” Cameron told WCBS 880 Connecticut Bureau Chief Fran Schneidau. “I think that people listened to the governor and my boding of bad traffic and they decided they would try to stay home.”
Cameron said commuters were not out of the woods just yet, adding he feared drivers who stayed home Monday would be back on the road Tuesday.
“So I’m not overly optimistic that we’re going to have a light traffic load and empty trains for the rest of the week as we may have seen today,” he told Schneidau.
Crews Work To Repair Damaged Track
Several days of around-the-clock work will be required, including inspections and testing of the newly rebuilt system, Permut said.
The damaged rail cars were removed from the tracks on Sunday, the first step toward making the repairs.
Around 700 people were on board the trains Friday evening when one heading east from Grand Central Terminal to New Haven derailed just outside Bridgeport. It was hit by a train heading west from New Haven.
Seven remained hospitalized on Monday, with one critical, Malloy announced.
WATCH: MTA Video Of New Haven Line Track Rebuilding
Once it is in place, additional inspections and tests will add even more time to the grueling repair process.
Latest On The Investigation
A source with knowledge of the investigation told CBS 2’s Aiello that the engineer of the derailed train spoke to the National Transportation Safety Board That engineer told NTSB investigators that he thought he saw broken or dislodged track as the train approached the area where the collision occurred.
The engineer added he thought he saw a break in the rails but could not stop in time to avoid derailing, Aiello reported.
Federal investigators held the scene for more than a day gathering evidence before allowing cleanup and repairs to begin.
NTSB investigators arrived Saturday and are expected to be on site for seven to 10 days and federal investigators are now focusing on a broken rail as a possible cause.
A section of track with what may be a fractured rail joint was sent to a lab for analysis.
Aiello reported that CBS 2 learned the stretch of rail where the derailment happened had been inspected on Wednesday, just two days before the accident.
AIELLO: “Do you know if there any specific issues raised about this stretch of track?”
ORTIZ: “No, none whatsoever. None whatsoever.”
The investigation has indicated that both trains were going approximately 70 miles per hour at the time of the accident, the NTSB said.
The agency said its mechanical team is also conducting a comprehensive inspection of the cars and said maintenance and inspection records have been requested for the NTSB review.
Investigators are also looking at maintenance records and if there was train, operator or signal failure.
The investigation could take weeks or months to complete.
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