Fire Underneath Metro-North Train Tracks Halts Rail Service

UPDATE: Inferno Sparked Underneath Metro-North Tracks Deemed Accidental: FDNY

A raging fire underneath the elevated Metro-North train tracks in East Harlem brought rail service to a halt during Tuesday's evening rush, officials say.

Fire officials say a fire started inside a garden nursery center underneath the tracks at East 118th Street and Park Avenue at about 6:45 p.m. An explosion at the site was likely caused when flames hit propane and fertilizer. 

The blaze was so intense it may have blown bolts off the track, the FDNY said at a news conference Tuesday evening.

A raging fire underneath elevated Metro-North train tracks in East Harlem brought rail service to a halt during Tuesday’s evening rush. Grand Central was overflowing with people. Gus Rosendale reports. Photo credit: @iankellyphoto/Twitter

Gov. Cuomo, who visited the scene, said the fire generated a "tremendous amount of heat," so much that it bent the steel girders that support the overpass. 

"I would say the fire was five, probably six stories high," said witness Sister Florence Speth. "It was enormous. Absolutely enormous." 

"It was blowing up, boom, and the fire was getting bigger," said Raymond Santana. 

The FDNY said 168 firefighters responded to the fire, and crews worked to extinguish it into the night. They poured water onto the steel to cool the tracks, and a haz-mat team and the MTA were expected to inspect the tracks. 

One firefighter suffered a minor injury when he slipped, but no civilians were hurt.

"That nobody lost their life really is extraordinary," Cuomo said, calling the fire "horrendous."

Ten cars were damaged, and buildings on both sides of the street were evacuated.

Residents told NBC 4 New York they at first feared a building explosion like the one in the area two years ago that killed eight people. 

"People were running like crazy," said Speth. "There was a man running with about an 8- or 9-year-old girl. He was carrying her sneaker, he wouldn't let her stop." 

"One lady came into the building, she was shaking, she had two little girls and she said, 'I thought it was another explosion, I thought it was another explosion,'" she said. 

Metro-North service into and out of Grand Central Terminal was halted due to the fire, and trains were not running on the Hudson, Harlem and New Haven lines.  

Service is expected to be suspended through the night, and restoration time remains uncertain.

The MTA has brought in repair crews that will work overnight with the "ambitious goal" of getting everything up and running for the morning rush.

Several trains will run over the overpass once it's repaired to make sure it's safe for commuters, Cuomo said. 

For now, Metro-North will operate on a Saturday schedule Wednesday and city-bound trains will terminate at Bronx subway connections. In short, a Saturday schedule means trains will be running less often. 

Hudson Line trains will terminate at Yankees-E. 153rd Street for connections to B, D and 4 subway lines. Harlem Line trains will terminate at Wakefield for connections to the 2 line. New Haven Line trains terminate at Woodlawn for connections to the 2 and 5 lines. 

Commuters are advised to check the Metro-North website for updates. In the meantime, NYC Transit is cross-honoring Metro-North tickets on subways. 

Commuters waiting at Grand Central Terminal earlier in the evening at first hoped for a quick resolution as they waited. Crowds grew as train delays turned into total service suspension. 

"Lots of frustrated commuters waiting for their trains," wrote Dave Gregorio. "Delays delays delays..."

"No Metro-North trains in either direction. Grand Central is a mess," said Laura Nicolle. 

Some eventually gave up and tried to find alternate ways to get to their destination. Susan Hynson of Rye said she was on a Metro-North train when it stopped at 119th Street and returned to Grand Central.

"We went out, we had just come out of the tunnel, and they brought us back in," she said. "I want to try to find an Uber, a bus, whatever to get us back to the suburbs."

Another commuter named Matt was taking a wait-and-see approach. 

"Worse comes to worst, I don't know, I got some friends in the Bronx, I can always call them, see if I can just stay with them," he said. "Other than that, when stuff like this happens, you just wait. That's the only thing you can do." 

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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