Coast Line trains immobilized by a barge mishap on Raritan

Published in the Asbury Park Press 5/20/03

New Jersey Transit restored full service to the North Jersey Coast Line at 8 o'clock last night and expected there would be no lingering damage today from an accident that disrupted train service for most of yesterday.

As many as 15,000 commuters were left standing on train platforms from Bay Head to Woodbridge yesterday morning after a crane being towed by a barge on the Raritan River knocked out power. Power to one track and limited service were restored about 3:30, but the trains were hampered by the loss of power to the signals, an NJ Transit spokeswoman said.

Without the signals, each train has to call and get permission before moving from one point to the next. The second track was restored about 7:15 p.m., and the signals were back on 45 minutes later, the spokeswoman said.

The power lines, which span the waterway near the River Drawbridge between Perth Amboy and South Amboy, were snapped about 6:55 a.m. after an American flag hoisted on a pole above the 140-foot crane caught the wires as it passed the open bridge, said Trooper Joseph DeMarino of the State Police's Newark Bay station.

"It appeared the captain misjudged the height of the crane, and it pulled the cables down," DeMarino said.
Without power, NJ Transit was forced to cancel service for the train line, delaying thousands on their commutes to North Jersey and Manhattan. Transportation officials urged commuters to take NJ Transit and Academy buses, which honored train tickets but were quickly filled by waiting passengers.

Evangeline Stewart, a New York bank auditor who lives in Red Bank, was one of the commuters and day-trippers who filled up a 49-seat Academy bus that rolled into the Red Bank station at 9:50 a.m. She had been waiting since 8 a.m.  "One bus came earlier, but it was full," Stewart said. "I feel a little bit frustrated."

With passengers still waiting on the curb, another bus arrived to accommodate the overflow. But Jose Acevedo, who drives a bus between Long Branch and Red Bank, said many commuters had been stuck at the Red Bank station for much of the morning and finally gave up. "Most of them left, and I think they went home," he said.

As the buses cleared the Red Bank station, Ruth Smith, who lives in Atlantic Highlands and is a student at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, arrived and learned the trains weren't running. She had two finals, at noon and 3 p.m., and the next bus was not until 10:45 a.m. Smith made a telephone call to try to alert her teacher and began her wait.   "It's my whole grade," said the 22-year-old of her noon final. "It's one presentation."

Also waiting for the 10:45 a.m. bus were Sarah and Sean Clegg, both 33, who had come from Berkeley, Calif., for a wedding in Eatontown over the weekend. Their plan was to spend a day in New York before flying back to the West Coast last night.  "We're planning to see the Guggenheim (Museum)," said Sean Clegg. "I see this as sort of a reprieve."

Meanwhile, the State Police, NJ Transit and the Coast Guard conducted an investigation into the accident as Coast Guard patrol boats kept watercraft off the river between Ferry Point and the Route 35 Victory Bridge.

The Coast Guard administered a drug and alcohol test to the tugboat captain, Charles Brogan, 56, of New York, and his crew. Results from the drug tests were pending, but the alcohol tests were negative, said Coast Guard Petty Officer Matthew Belson.

Gary Deckelnick, night metro editor, contributed to this story.
Rick Hepp: (732) 643-4212 or [email protected]
A.M. RIDERS: 15,000ON-TIME (APRIL): 93.2 percent

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