Travelers usually pass through Pennsylvania Station in midtown Manhattan in a matter of minutes, but stormy conditions Friday evening left hundreds of commuters stranded and waiting. Still, they braved hours-long delays with the grit New Yorkers are known for.
Passengers gathered near Long Island Rail Road ticket booths and squinted up at the message boards that displayed delayed departure times for dozens of destinations. LIRR employees told passengers that stormy weather, fallen trees and toppled utility poles caused cancellations, and there was no estimate for when service would resume.
The storm that hit the East Coast early Friday morning, a nor’easter, brought heavy snowfall, freezing rain and high winds that prompted LIRR and New Jersey Transit to suspend service. Amtrak trains from Washington D.C. to Boston were held until Saturday morning, and trains between the nation’s capitol and New York City are still suspended due to power outages.
Flights out of LaGuardia Airport were also grounded for most of Friday, before some flights were allowed to take off and land about 8 p.m. John F. Kennedy International Airport offered limited service throughout the day.
At Penn Station, travelers paced back and forth in front of stores, calling friends and family to explain the situation. One woman described the delays as “a huge mess,” and another complained about maneuvering around hundreds of people who had parked themselves and their belongings in the middle of walkways. One man tried to reassure his child over the phone.
“Daddy’s train is just broken because of the weather,” he said.
Disgruntled customers swarmed around MTA customer service employees, who wore neon orange vests and big buttons that read, “How can I help you?” Some travelers asked about alternative travel routes that they might be able to take but for most, the response was one they didn’t want to hear – you can’t.
Kevin Ling, a 23-year-old corporate strategist from Mineola, New York, glanced down at his watch. He had lost track of how long he’d been waiting since news that his 5:33 p.m. train home was cancelled. Ling said operators keep putting up new times for the next departure on the message boards, but no trains actually left. They were all cancelled.
Shortly after 6 p.m., Steve Cavaiuolo realized he would miss his daughter’s 7 p.m. high school recital in Huntington, Long Island, where he lives. Cavaiuolo, who works as a network engineer, said there was no way he would make it because the travel itself takes an hour. Even if a train began to board right away, Cavaiuolo, 50, said he wasn’t expecting to be able to get on the first couple of trains because so many people were waiting.
Despite the inconvenience, Daisy Gonzalez, 29, tried to keep a positive outlook. Gonzalez, who works in finance, said she hurried to the train station that evening because she was eager to relax at her West Hempstead home after a long week of work.
“I ran all the way here and then had nowhere to go,” she said. “But at least I got some cardio in.”
Gavin Aghamore, a 43-year-old who works in publishing, played video games on his cell phone at Wasabi Sushi and Bento while he waited for the weather to clear up. He said he was using the LIRR mobile application to keep apprised of the situation, and added that at least five trains headed to his home in Hicksville, New York had already been cancelled. Aghamore, who buys the monthly LIRR pass for commuters, had no idea when he would be able to leave, but he was insistent on waiting it out instead of paying to take a cab or an Uber.
“It’s Friday night,” he said. “I’m either waiting here or I’m waiting in traffic.”
Court reporter Anthony Giarro also settled in for a long night. After seeing that he would have to wait more than three hours for the next train to Ronkonkomo, he pulled out his laptop and stretched out his legs, sitting against a brown walkway wall for support.
“I might as well get some work done,” said Giarro, 34, with a shrug.
Amid the bustle of frustrated travelers, some employees who work at restaurants and concessions stands in the station see a silver lining. Shake Shack, Southwest Grill and Auntie Anne’s workers all said they estimated the delays would improve business tonight by about 20 percent, compared to an average Friday night.
Surya Kalavala, a 26-year-old who works at the station’s Jamba Juice, said he attributed an increase in smoothie sales to the bad weather, which encouraged people to stay indoors in addition to delaying the trains.
Many travelers opted to grab a drink and a few oysters at Tracks Raw Bar and Grill while they waited. Mike O’Brien, who works at the restaurant, said the place was packed for a Friday night.
“These people have nowhere else to go,” he said. “What’s a better way to spend the time?”
A few minutes before 7 p.m., O’Brien waved goodbye to a regular, also named Mike. As the customer left, he looked up at the status board for the next scheduled train that would take him home. His eyes widened.
“10:15 – are you kidding me?” he said to O’Brien. The man sighed and shook his head. “I’m not getting out of here anytime soon, am I?”