Fire Under Metro-North Tracks in Harlem Causes Major Commuter Headaches

By

A fire under the elevated Metro-North tracks in Harlem during the evening rush hour Tuesday night stranded passengers during a temporary shutdown of service to and from Grand Central and is still causing headaches for commuters on Wednesday. The fire broke out at 119th Street and Park Avenue, and Governor Cuomo said last night that the fire was fueled in part by chemicals stored by a garden nursery operating under the tracks.

The FDNY was investigating reports of explosions that may have been set off by propane tanks at the site, and this morning, MTA chairman Thomas Prendergast said on NY1 that he’d wants to know why combustible materials were stored at the site, beneath critical infrastructure.

The FDNY said the fire was so intense that it may have blown bolts off the tracks, and Cuomo said there was so much heat that it bent the steel girders that support the overpass.

Officials were alerted to the fire at 6:42 p.m. Tuesday, and because service was temporarily suspended to and from Grand Central, tens of thousands of commuters were stranded, with many facing long trips home. Fire officials said at 8:25 last night that a majority of the fire was under control.

Limited service has since been restored, and Metro-North trains are running on a Saturday schedule on Wednesday. The MTA says that, following overnight repairs, trains are able to use the outer two tracks of the four-track viaduct, but their maximum speeds will be reduced from 60 miles per hour to 30 miles per hour. The MTA says commuters can expect delays and “extremely crowded conditions,” and is encouraging those who use Metro-North to work from home if possible, or to make alternate travel arrangements.

Updated Thusday 5/19: FDNY investigators deemed the four-alarm blaze accidental, saying it was likely caused after workers spilled fuel while trying to refill a generator at the garden center on 119th Street and Park Avenue.