Passengers rescued from sweltering train stalled in Westport
Updated 2:44 pm, Saturday, July 23, 2011
A Metro-North Railroad train stalled on the tracks Friday afternoon near the Green's Farms Railroad Station in Westport, trapping passengers -- including three pregnant women -- in sweltering cars for more than an hour as the day's scorching heat caused havoc with the afternoon rush.
With temperatures hovering around 100 degrees across the region, there were reports of at least two other trains that became disabled by heat-related problems. At 5 p.m., westbound service was suspended between New Haven and Stamford, but was running again with delays about two hours later, while eastbound service was delayed 45 minutes at 7 p.m.
Early reports about the Westport incident relayed via emergency-services radios -- indicating that some frustrated passengers may have jumped from the stranded train onto the tracks -- could not be confirmed later.
But Westport firefighters, who said they received many 911 calls from the stranded train, blamed confusion in responding to the scene on the initial dispatches from the MTA.
"Quite a bit of confusion on the part of MTA dispatchers contributed to emergency services delay in response," Westport Fire Department officials said in a statement issued Friday evening. The MTA dispatchers contacted by the Westport fire dispatcher initially indicated that the train was not carrying passengers, according to the statement.
"Despite those conflicting reports, Westport fire, police and EMS responded to the Sherwood Island Connector railroad overpass and found the train approximately three-quarters of a mile east near 16 Beachside Common Road not moving," the statement added."Westport Emergency Services relocated to Beachside Commons to board the train and render assistance only to be met by the train moving eastbound upon their arrival. The train finally stopped at the Green's Farms station. Westport Emergency services then relocated to the eastbound station to attend to patients in distress."
Several riders reportedly were nearly overcome by the extreme heat aboard the train. The train languished without electricity or air conditioning, and several passengers later said they had to force open their cars' emergency windows for relief.
The eastbound train -- apparently set to arrive at 3:17 p.m. in Green's Farms -- was stranded when the power was cut by wire problems just west of the Green's Farms depot near Sherwood Island State Park.
Firefighters from both Westport and Fairfield were dispatched to the scene, as well as Westport EMS, and the train was finally able to limp into the station under reserve power.
EMS personnel evaluated the three pregnant women who had become distressed from the heat, but they all refused transport to a hospital, EMS Coordinator Marc Hartog told the Westport News. No other passengers reportedly required medical attention.
Fire officials said they want a meeting with MTA officials to discuss communications problems next week because of the confusion that ensued in the inital response to the emergency reports.
After disembarking, most passengers waited quietly on the Green's Farms station platform and sought shade under the platform roof and sipped from water bottles distributed by firefighters.
Passengers interviewed by the Westport News praised the response of local emergency services personnel, but were critical of the Metropolitan Transit Authority's handling of the situation.
"I think the overall consensus was the police, fire and EMS guys in Westport did a great job, but that MTA sucked," said Frank Darmstadt, who was on his way to New Haven.
"It just didn't seem like they [MTA] knew what they were doing," he added. "There were people fainting, one guy seemed to have a panic attack. It felt like something out of a bad movie."
Ron Kovis, on his way to Fairfield, echoed Darmstadt's sentiments.
"MTA totally fell short on communication," he said. "The conductor was on his radio, begging for information. We didn't have electricity or AC, and the heat was stifling. You lost track of time."
Shortly before 5 p.m., a replacement train bound for New Haven rolled into the station. Most of the passengers boarded, although a few had made arrangements to be picked up by family or friends. It headed east using the railroad's westbound tracks.