Airlines, rail, struggle in storm-struck East

WASHINGTON - Airline, rail and other transportation and shipping networks along the storm-battered East Coast struggled to resume operations on Sunday but most would not return to normal until Tuesday at the earliest.

By (Reuters)

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Published: Mon 29 Aug 2011, 9:23 AM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 8:41 PM

Flooding, wind damage and power outages from Hurricane Irene and related logistics impeded efforts to get the biggest systems back on line for tens of millions of people, especially in New York, where airports and the subway remained closed.

As skies cleared, Washington and Philadelphia handled some flights. Airline cancellations topped 11,000 since Friday — virtually the industry’s entire schedule for the region.

“We need time to put airplanes back in place and hope for a limited startup on Monday at those airports,” said Todd Lehmacher, a spokesman for US Airways, which has heavy operations in the East. “We’re focused on the goal of normal operations on Tuesday.”

The Federal Aviation Administration said all three airports serving greater New York would reopen on Monday morning.

New York officials could not say when its subway system, the nation’s largest, would fully reopen. Their initial plan announced on Friday was to begin restarting operations on Monday afternoon. Like other big city transit lines crucial for suburban commuters, the system will be brought back gradually.

Limited New York bus service was to resume later on Sunday and the PATH trains from New Jersey, important for Wall Street, should be running by Monday morning. New Jersey Transit was expected to operate a limited train schedule on Monday.

Subways in Boston were also closed on Sunday, but were expected to resume operations in time for the morning commute.

Roads, tunnels open

Other regional transportation infrastructure came back to life along the mid-Atlantic. Busy tunnels and bridges heavily used by commercial trucking reopened.

Interstate 95 through the mid-Atlantic and into the Northeast was clear but a 100-mile stretch of the northbound New York State Thruway, including that side of the Tappan Zee Bridge, were closed due to storm-related problems.

Many secondary roads throughout the Northeast were blocked by fallen trees, downed power lines and flooding.

Virginia State Police responded to 300 traffic accidents related to the storm, officials said.

Commuter trains around major cities and passenger railroad Amtrak were halted in the Northeast. Amtrak crews inspected nearly 400 miles (644 km) of track and overhead wiring, and reported areas of flooding, track debris and power outages.

The FAA said airport control towers in the Northeast escaped damage and were staffed. Runways were inspected and cleared for operation.

However, controllers had to wait for airport terminals to reopen and airlines to restart their schedules. About half of the total cancellations were at New York-area airports — Kennedy International, LaGuardia and Newark — that handle about 6,000 flights per day and 100 million passengers a year.

Worse than a blizzard

Airports in Boston, Manchester, New Hampshire and Providence, Rhode Island were expected to reopen Monday afternoon, according to Delta Air Lines, which cancelled 13 percent of its systemwide flight schedule between Saturday and Monday.

“The extent of this is a multiple of what you’ve seen in the worst snowstorms,” said Bob Mann of R.W. Mann & Co, a former airline executive and now a consultant.

“Once the (Port Authority) says they’re open for business, you’ve got to repopulate the operation. Take aircraft and crews and plug them back in.”

Carriers heavily affected other than Delta include US Airways, American Airlines, United Airlines, and JetBlue Airways

JetBlue, which is based at Kennedy airport and alone cancelled 1,200 flights due to the storm, planned to restart Northeast operations on Monday afternoon.

But normalizing operations depends as much on resumption of rail, road and transit services as it does flight schedules and runway conditions.

JetBlue has 4,000 crewmembers living or based in New York or Boston. Other airlines face similar problems.

New York air traffic controller Dean Iacopelli expects airlines will spend Monday repositioning planes moved to other cities during the storm. Traffic will be coming from different directions that we do not normally see.”

Container ships that rode out the storm at sea waited for US Coast Guard approval to head for mid-Atlantic ports that were closed. Terminals gradually reopened and hoped to resume normal operations by late on Sunday or Monday.

Cruise ships adjusted schedules as well. Carnival Corp pushed back departure of the Pride on its weekly cruise from Baltimore by one day to Monday.

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