A train with about 1200 passengers became stuck in a tunnel between New York and New Jersey for nearly three hours yesterday, and the chaotic scene escalated to pandemonium when Amtrak police used a stun gun to subdue a disruptive man in a station, sparking a stampede.
It was the latest in a series of recent rail problems plaguing the metropolitan area.
The New Jersey Transit train became disabled in the Hudson River tunnel late yesterday afternoon, when Amtrak was experiencing overhead power problems. A New Jersey Transit spokeswoman said the train finally reached New York's Penn Station in the early evening.
The overcrowded train station erupted in panic when Amtrak police used a Taser to subdue a man who was causing a disturbance. New York police said the use of the Taser led to false rumours of gunshots at the station.
People screamed and ran, leaving the station strewn with abandoned bags. The nearby Macy's department store was briefly locked down.
Amtrak said yesterday night the subdued man, who wasn't a passenger from the disabled train, was in police custody.
The loss of power in the tunnel caused delays of an hour or more on Amtrak and New Jersey Transit. It happened three weeks after the derailment of an Amtrak train at Penn Station and a week after a New Jersey Transit derailment shut down eight of 21 tracks there and disrupted travel in the region for days. No injuries were reported in any of the incidents.
One passenger from yetserday's train, Mia Sanati, described a scene of confusion.
Sanati said she and her husband were headed for the New York International Auto Show when they boarded the train in Secaucus, New Jersey, at Secaucus Junction, the last New York-bound stop before Penn Station.
She said shortly after the train entered the tunnel to go under the Hudson River, they felt a bump on the side of the train and saw sparks.
"About 30 seconds later, the train just came to a complete stop," Sanati said.
The power went out, except for emergency lights, and so did the air conditioning, said Sanati.
"It got really hot really fast, with that many people crammed together," she said.
As riders waited and plans changed - they were told that the train would be towed, then that it would be evacuated - some tried to make light of the situation or scooted over in their seats to make room for people who were standing. But others were shaking, pacing, saying they had to get out or mulling about walking through the tunnel, Sanati said.
After the electricity came back on and the train started moving, there were cheers, said Sanati, who lives in Lyndhurst, New Jersey.
Rush hour passengers trying to leave New York faced mounting delays.
Adam Rosen, a chemical engineer going to Hamilton, New Jersey, said, "They keep extending the delays from 45 minutes to 90 minutes and now indefinitely. This is the worst."
New Jersey Transit executive director Steven Santoro said in a statement to affected riders, "we deeply apologise for your experience, and I would like to hear from you".
NJ Transit spokeswoman Nancy Snyder said the railroad was working with Amtrak to determine the cause of the problem.