NEW YORK (AP) — A subway train derailed near a station in Harlem on Tuesday, frightening passengers and resulting in minor injuries as hundreds of people were evacuated from trains along the subway line.
“We started seeing sparks through the windows. People were falling,” said passenger Susan Pak, of Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. She said the A train jerked and began shaking violently as it approached the station at 125th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue.
Two of the eight cars on the train derailed just before 10 a.m. Sparks from the skidding train briefly ignited garbage on the track, but there was no serious fire, said Joe Lhota, chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
The cause was under investigation. Lhota said the emergency braking system on the train triggered, but it wasn’t immediately clear why. He said he didn’t know yet if a passenger had pulled the emergency brake.
“This, to the best of my knowledge, does not look like a failure on the part of equipment, does not look like a failure on the part of the track itself,” he said. “We need to determine what it is.”
Fire officials said 34 people suffered non-life-threatening injuries.
Three other trains were in the tunnel at the time of the derailment, he said. All were evacuated.
It’s unclear what effect the situation would have on the afternoon commute. For now, Lhota said, service on the affected train line is suspended.
Delays were reported throughout the subway system, which has been plagued by problems this year.
Jack Cox, a software developer, was on the train when it began jostling, and he felt a “large thump.” It all lasted about 30 seconds, he said.
“During the whole time, it was just like, “What’s going on? What’s going to happen?’ Then it stopped. I didn’t have time to be scared before then, but I looked around and the woman next to me was curled up in some sort of fetal tuck.”
Cox said smoke started coming in from one end of the car. “It wasn’t heavy smoke, but it was frightening,” he said.
He said riders ended up walking through the darkened cars using cellphones for light and exiting onto the platform.
Other trains approaching the station halted in their tracks. Pictures and video posted on social media showed passengers evacuating through darkened subway tunnels. Emergency crews shut off track power after derailments to prevent evacuees from being electrocuted.
Julian Robinson said he was stuck on one stopped train for 45 minutes to an hour before rescuers arrived to escort passengers along the tracks into the station.
“People didn’t panic,” he said. He said the station wasn’t smoky, but there was a strong, acrid smell.
The train derailed as the MTA was preparing to celebrate the reopening of a subway station at the southern tip of Manhattan that had been closed since it was flooded by Superstorm Sandy in October 2012.
The South Ferry station on the No. 1 line reopened after $340 million worth of repairs. MTA employees and contractors in hard hats cheered as the first train rolled into the pristine new station.
Riders had to use an older, outmoded station that only had room for the first five cars of a 10-car train during the lengthy repair process.
“It was a big inconvenience for a long time,” said plumber Don Geba, a passenger on the first train to leave the new station.
The number of subway delays have tripled in the past five years, to 70,000 per month. In recent months, several high-profile incidents have occurred, including subway trains stuck in tunnels for an hour or more. In April, a power outage backed up trains around the city and closed a key Manhattan station for 12 hours.
Commuter railroads have also had problems recently. A report earlier this month found rush-hour cancellations and delays on New York’s Long Island Rail Road are at the highest level in 10 years.
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