Train From Poughkeepsie to Croton in Eight Hours

Passengers who boarded a Metro-North train that stalled on Sunday (July 9) afternoon were finally allowed to exit in the evening to stretch their legs or find alternate transportation. (Photo by Emily Sheskin)

Passengers who boarded a Metro-North train that stalled on Sunday (July 9) afternoon were finally allowed to exit in the evening to stretch their legs or find alternate transportation. (Photo by Emily Sheskin)

Passengers recall ordeal on Metro-North train

Hours after hiking in the Shawangunk Mountains, Emily Sheskin and two friends sat on a motionless Metro-North train undergoing the five stages of grief.

Denial: “At first, we were like: This is fine. Nothing is wrong. It’s just a small hiccup,’ ” said Sheskin. 

Anger: “What is going on? I have a full day. We were trying to get back early. What is this?” 

Bargaining: “I heard a man say that he was going to call his credit card concierge service and that they would probably send a car for him or help him out of this, which is crazy.” 

Depression: “Are we ever going to get through this?” 

Acceptance: “This is our home now.” 

That home was a Metro-North train that departed Poughkeepsie for Grand Central Terminal at 2:51 p.m. on July 9, just as a freakish storm began to release, at rate of up to 2 inches per hour, rain that would dislodge rocks and debris onto the Hudson Line’s tracks and cause flooding that submerged them in water. 

For hours on Sunday the train sat derelict by the Manitou station, as its engine failed, the tracks between Croton-Harmon and Poughkeepsie became impassable and flooded roads prevented buses from rescuing passengers. 

Julie Napolin remembers running through the rain, just after 3 p.m., to catch the train at the station in Beacon, where she lives. She’s not sure if the train had stopped at Garrison or Manitou when people’s phones began sounding with alerts about the weather. 

“I think the moral of the story is that our rain is now very extreme,” said Napolin, who would be on the train for the next five hours. “And if it’s raining cats and dogs, don’t get on the train.”

While Sheskin and her friends were returning to New York City after a hiking weekend, Napolin caught the train to see a show in the city. The passengers also included a couple on their way to catch an Air France flight for their honeymoon, according to tweets about the incident.  

On Monday, Metro-North posted pictures of the damage the train headed toward, including tracks subsumed by water and washed-out beds. 

Napolin and Sheskin said passengers were told that when the train first stopped south of the Manitou station that it was because a boulder had fallen on the tracks. Sheskin suspected that they actually meant rocks dislodged by the rain. 

“We were like: ‘A boulder? What?’ ” she said. 

The train began moving north back toward Manitou when its engine died, according to Napolin and Sheskin, who believe that rain damaged it. Without the engine, the train lost air conditioning and working bathrooms. 

“Once the engine died, that’s when we’re basically just in a tin can with emergency lights,” said Sheskin. 

So began the wait for a replacement engine from Croton-Harmon to tow the train. Passengers hoped buses were being deployed to pick them up, but police and first responders were already closing roads in the Highlands because of flooding. 

“At that point, I didn’t really understand how how bad things were, and I imagined that I would just get off and go home,” said Napolin. Two hours had already passed as the train returned to the Manitou station. Both she and Sheskin were still hours from going home. 

Inside the train, Napolin texted a friend who agreed to pick her up, but the friend had to wait in limbo on Route 9D because the train’s staff had no clear answer about when or where they would be allowed to disembark. 

Aaron Donovan, a spokesperson for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Metro-North’s parent agency, said on Wednesday (July 12) that “options during this ‘1,000-year storm’” were limited because of road closures in the area and impassable tracks. 

“MTA Police Department commanders on scene believed the best place for the train’s customers was on board the train,” he said. 

With the air conditioning off, the temperature rose. Toilets filled and people became hungry and thirsty. Sheskin and her friends had leftover snacks and water from their hiking trip. The train’s two conductors also handed out water in packaging that resembled “juice boxes,” the only water they gave out, she said. 

In the space between train cars, passengers found signals for their cellphones. One person tried to reach a supervisor at the MTA and others called the police, said Napolin. The stoppage inspired speculation: Were they being prevented from getting off for liability reasons? Shouldn’t passengers be allowed to leave if they wanted to? 

Someone wrote "Help" on the steamed window of a Metro-North train where passengers were trapped for hours because of storm-damaged tracks.Photo by Emily Sheskin

Someone wrote “Help” on the steamed window of a Metro-North train where passengers were trapped for hours because of storm-damaged tracks. (Photo by Emily Sheskin)

Sheskin took a picture of a misted-up window on which someone scribbled “Help.” Napolin said she heard that some passengers suggested shattering the emergency glass so they could escape — “breaking and exiting” instead of “breaking and entering.” 

“At this point, factions are developing; people are banding together,” said Napolin, laughing. 

Passengers also helped each other. A woman who claimed to work for the state called her boss, who then reached Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office, said Sheskin. Other people shared phones and chargers. “New Yorkers are the best in that regard,” she said.  

Eventually, around 8 p.m., a woman announced over the intercom that she was with the MTA police and that passengers were going to be allowed to exit through the first car in order to stretch. Napolin said that there were police “everywhere” when she descended the train’s stairs at Manitou and reached the ground. 

She walked, in the drizzle, to Manitou Station Road and then up to Route 9D, where she found her friend waiting. Along Route 9D, police were prohibiting cars from traveling north and “a long caravan of cars” waited to go south, said Napolin.  

For Sheskin, home was still hours away. Passengers were told at 9 p.m. that a rescue train would arrive in 45 minutes, but it did not come until more than an hour later, she said. 

The train started moving at 10:30 p.m. and arrived at Croton-Harmon at 11:21, said Sheskin. When the conductor walked through the cars to inform passengers of the next steps, the passengers clapped for him in appreciation, she said. 

The train to which Sheskin and her friends transferred at Croton-Harmon had working air conditioning and bathrooms, but did not leave right away. So, one friend scheduled an Uber, which drove them to New York City. Sheskin arrived home at 1:15 a.m. on Monday. 

“As horrible as it was, it renewed my faith in humanity,” said Sheskin. “People stepped up, which was really nice to see.” 

7 thoughts on “Train From Poughkeepsie to Croton in Eight Hours

  1. This article is absurd and ridiculous. I was on that train. It was one of the most traumatic and terrifying experiences of my life. We all thought we were going to die. Many of us were wondering if the cops who were being very rude and aggressive to us in the beginning, toting around their guns, were there to kill us to save face for the MTA. The toilets were flooding urine and feces into the train. Children, adults, disabled people, not able to eat at all for hours and hours. Trapped in torment and hopelessness. The “water boxes” being passed around were filled with mildew because they had been stored in a spot on the train over four years before we’d left the station in Poughkeepsie. How many people did you interview for this article? Two people? And you read some tweets? That doesn’t even qualify as corroborating evidence! Do it over again. And this time tell the truth.

    I have nightmares over and over again about this. It doesn’t ever leave my mind. You have no idea what happened on that train. It was hell on ice times a hundred. And the victimizing terroristic monsters of the MTA who perpetrated this act of torture against us haven’t so much as paid us back for our tickets. They haven’t accepted accountability for the situation in any way, shape or form. They do not care about the lives of humans that they assume full responsibility for when they shuttle them to and fro in their giant screaming metal death traps. If they did they would prepare for disaster. They would have supplies, they would have methods for draining water off the tracks, for removing debris, for keeping debris from falling onto the tracks in the first place. This lack of concern for human life, the danger they put us in, it was deliberated and decided upon by people in board rooms who work very little and wear suits that cost more than I will ever make in a year. They are human rights abusers.

    Where is your sense of justice, o rag columnist?

    • It’s really unfortunate that MetroNorth could not coordinate better with Mother Nature. At this point in time, with all our technology, they should have been able to tell exactly what was going to happen and when, and provided three-star meals and spring water from Fiji.

      What happened was utterly unacceptable and ridiculous. No civilized human should ever be subjected to such torture and deprivation. Let alone the possible sinister actions of gun-toting police who love to walk around in knee deep water near live tracks. On top of everything, what about that boulder that plopped itself on the tracks … what nerve! Why it couldn’t find a more convenient place to land, I’ll never know.

      May I humbly suggest that you enlist a pilot next time to take you to the city and leave us common peasant folk to deal with the vagaries of the weather, MetroNorth and Almighty God.

  2. We experienced the deluge and aftermath on the other side of the Hudson River. We were headed north on the Palisades Parkway on July 9 between 3 and 3:30 p.m. toward home in Fort Montgomery. We crossed to the south lanes at the Anthony Wayne Recreation Area and decided we could go through the Seven Lakes region to get to the road to West Point, avoiding trouble.

    Were we ever wrong. I’ll spare you the harrowing details, but we eventually slept overnight in our car at the (fully booked) Holiday Inn. The road to our home was washed away. Who knew flooding could be a factor on a mountain road? [via Facebook]

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