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A massive power outage brought all electric-powered trains to a stop yesterday [May 25] on the Washington-New York segment of the Northeast Corridor. 

The first problem began around 7:55 a.m. and power was fully interrupted just after 8:05 a.m. and was fully restored by 11:00 a.m. (power to some segments, including the Washington Union Station area, was restored as early as 9:30 a.m.). 

The exact cause has not yet been determined, but it is known that the outage quickly spread system-wide as designed-in "fail safe" mode (that is, subsequent substations shut down to prevent damage from overheating). 

A contributing factor may have been that one substation, near Metuchen, NJ, was off line due to routine, scheduled maintenance.  Signals and switches continued to be powered, and diesels were used to rescue some stranded passengers.

[National Assn. of Railroad Passengers, 5-26-06]

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Later Report...


Amtrak has traced an electrical outage two weeks ago that abruptly disrupted Northeast rail service to problems at Philadelphia-area power stations, the railroad said on June 8.

Amtrak's acting president, David Hughes, said a preliminary investigation found that power conversion facilities in Philadelphia and Chester, Pennsylvania, just outside the city, were involved. It was the worst problem of its kind for Amtrak in 23 years, the railroad said.

The outage triggered a cascading failure of electrical systems along the southern end of Amtrak's flagship Northeast Corridor line, disrupting service between Washington and Boston.

The worst problems were between Washington and New York where busy commuter lines were affected for hours in addition to Amtrak service.

Many trains were stopped between stations, including three New Jersey Transit trains and one Amtrak train that were stuck in New York tunnels.

While Amtrak has pinpointed the location of the problem, it has not yet determined what exactly disrupted the conversion of high voltage electricity to levels needed to run trains.

[Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers & Trainmen, 6-8-06, from Reuters report]

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Later Report...


Last month's electrical shutdown that stranded 91 trains along the Northeast Corridor cannot be blamed on deteriorating infrastructure at Amtrak, a top official of the rail operation told N.J. state lawmakers June 22.

William Crosbie, Amtrak's senior vice president for operations, said it may be months before the cause of the shutdown is known, but it appears to have been a "very technical" problem involving "our most modern" electrical substation. "We feel the events of May 25 are not directly related to the infrastructure being in a state of disrepair," Crosbie told the Senate Transportation Committee. "We didn't have a piece of equipment fail. Nothing burnt; nothing blew up."

In a matter of minutes, Crosbie said, circuit breakers automatically tripped at one electrical substation after another, stopping all trains along 500 miles of track from Boston to Washington, D.C.

"The system is designed to self-protect itself so you don't burn a piece of equipment up that will take much longer to replace," Crosbie said. He apologized to commuters who were stranded, but said Amtrak did a "remarkable" job of restoring power in three hours.

Crosbie said some commuters were stranded in a tunnel under the Hudson River for five hours because once electrical power was restored, the train's braking system had to be recharged before it could move.

He added that a stranded NJ Transit train and a rescue locomotive had incompatible braking systems, lengthening the delay.

[Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers & Trainmen, 6-23-06, from Newark Star-Ledger website report by Robert Schwaneberg]

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Later Report...


A 60-year-old high-voltage cable failed in January, delaying 106 trains across New Jersey at the dawn of the morning commute, according to the Bergen, N.J., Record.

A power wire failed on two occasions in May, delaying 12 trains one day and 22 on another.

Last month, power fluctuations stalled trains three times, including last week, when a voltage change shut down a power station, stopping trains between Newark and New York for about 40 minutes.

Increasingly, power problems are affecting train service in New Jersey, where the busiest track is owned by Amtrak but heavily used by NJ Transit. The number of power-related train delays on Amtrak-owned tracks in New Jersey has increased 64 percent between 2000 and 2006, according to NJ Transit figures.

Amtrak, which has deferred maintenance on its lines for decades, told government auditors in 1996 that it needed to replace the entire Northeast Corridor electric system between Washington, D.C., and New York at a cost of $700-million.

But 10 years later, Amtrak's electric system remains in bad condition, so old that the executive director of NJ Transit calls it "frail" and state lawmakers argue that increasing delays amount to a crisis.

Amtrak warned in a five-year plan, published last year, that "the system is prone to failure." Former Amtrak officials, veterans of the annual battle for money with Congress, said the electric system must be upgraded for the network to remain a viable transportation option.

[United Transportation Union, 7-3-06, from Bergen Record report]

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Later Report...


Routine tree-trimming by an Amtrak maintenance crew set in motion a chain of events that ended with a power failure at the peak of the Oct.3 rush hour, stalling 100 NJ Transit trains carrying about 70,000 commuters.

The problems stemmed from Amtrak's decision to shut down two of the four power lines on the Northeast Corridor to allow crews to cut branches hanging near the rails in Pennsylvania. But then there was a break in the third power line somewhere in New Jersey - an accident unrelated to the tree-trimming - that left only one electric line in service. "The fourth line was unable to handle the power of the two lines, tripping circuit breakers," said an Amtrak statement.

[United Transportation Union, 10-4-06, from Newark Star-Ledger report]