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Frigid Cold To Blame In Disabled Metro-North Train Mishap In Westport

A Metro-North train from Grand Central Terminal became disabled in Westport Wednesday night due to a broken catenary wire.
A Metro-North train from Grand Central Terminal became disabled in Westport Wednesday night due to a broken catenary wire. Photo Credit: File

WESTPORT, Conn. — Metro-North Railroad crews Thursday morning repaired a snapped catenary wire that caused a train to become disabled Wednesday night between the Greens Farms and Westport stations, Metro-North officials say.

The catenary wires between the Greens Farms and East Norwalk stations are 100 years old and vulnerable to extreme weather, Metro-North spokeswoman Marjorie Anders said.

“Extreme cold temperatures cause the metal catenary wires to shrink and sometimes —  because they are brittle — they break, and that’s what happened last night,” Anders said. “So when a wire breaks, the train comes to a stop, we turn the power off and try to get it fixed.”

Temperatures across the region sank into the single digits Wednesday night, with a wind chill warning in effect as well.

The 7:34 p.m. train from Grand Central Terminal became snarled between the two stations at 8:51 p.m. with about 200 passengers on board, Anders said. The loss of power meant the heat had stopped. However, there was battery-powered lighting— one of the features of the newer M8 cars.

A rescue train was dispatched from New Haven to conduct a side-by-side evacuation but was delayed after a switch failure occurred, preventing the rescue train from coming up on the track alongside the disabled train, Anders said.

The frigid cold is also to blame for causing the switch failure, she said.

“If there is a buildup of ice or even slush where the switch is supposed to move, then the train can’t change from one track to another,” she said. “When this happens, we have to send someone to dig out the switch so it can move again.”

The switch failure occurred at 9:50 p.m., bringing the rescue train to a halt not far from the disabled train, Anders said. Signal maintainers arrived at 10:15 p.m. and began working to correct the problem, she said.

The rescue train finally arrived at 10:51 p.m. and the evacuation was completed by 10:57 p.m., Anders said, two hours after the train became disabled.

“In preparation for the evacuation, the conductors had gathered the customers into three cars to expedite the move, so the passengers were fully aware of the attempts to get them on their way,” she said. “The customers were calm —  not happy —  but calm.”

About a dozen or more Metro-North personnel were at the scene during the delay, including MTA police and a Metro-North operations manager, she said. Westport police and fire, she added, were not called as MTA police were on scene.

In addition to keeping passengers informed, Anders said personnel checked on their needs and interviewed everyone on board.

Although there was no heat, Anders said the rail cars retained enough warmth to keep passengers safe. MTA officers on the scene, she said, determined the temperature on the train to be above freezing.

“The passengers were never in any danger,” she said. “All in all, it went as well as can be expected.”

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