NEW YORK - Commuters streaming into New York City on Monday endured long waits and crowded trains, giving the recovering transit system a stress test a week after Superstorm Sandy ravaged the eastern third of the country, with New York and New Jersey bearing the brunt of the destruction.
Trains were so crowded Monday on the Long Island Rail Road that dozens of people missed their trains. With PATH trains between New Jersey and Manhattan still out, lines for the ferry in Jersey City quickly stretched to several hundred people by daybreak.
One commuter in line pleaded into his cellphone, "Can I please work from home? This is outrageous," but many more took the complicated commute as just another challenge after a difficult week.
"There's not much we can do. We'll get there whatever time we can, and our jobs have to understand. It's better late than absent," said Louis Holmes of Bayonne, as he waited to board a ferry in Jersey City to his job as a security guard at Manhattan's Sept. 11 memorial site.
The good news in New York City was that, unlike last week, service on key subway lines connecting Manhattan and Brooklyn under the East River had been restored. But officials warned that other water-logged tunnels still weren't ready for Monday's rush hour and that fewer-than-normal trains were running - a recipe for a difficult commute.
On Long Island, Janice Gholson could not get off her train from Ronkonkoma and Wyandanch because of overcrowding, and ended up overshooting her stop.
"I've never taken the train before. There were people blocking the doorway so I got stuck on the train," she said.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg took the subway to work Monday. He was joined by many of the students returning to class in the nation's largest school system. About 90 percent of the 1,700 schools reopened for the first time since Sandy hit last Monday, the mayor said.
At Public School 2 in Chinatown, the playground was once again full of the sounds of children laughing and shouting as they played basketball before school started. Samantha Martin, a fifth-grader at P.S. 75 on the Upper West Side, made it to school from the Bronx with time to spare on the subway.
"It was packed but I'm happy. Home is boring!" Martin said.
The longer commute times were actually a lesser problem for many families who left homes and apartments that have been without power for almost a week. In Westchester County, Liliana Matos said dropping her boys off at Colonial School in Pelham gave her a chance to "call Con Ed and get on their backs" about the loss of power. For the last three days, they have been staying at a hotel because the house is too cold.
In Jersey City, investment advisor Barbara Colucci, was traveling from a house without power and the family's car was low on fuel because of persistent gasoline shortages.
"I can't wait until the PATH and light rail are up and running again, but first I'd like power in my house quite honestly," she said. "We're sleeping on air mattresses but we have heat so we can't complain but I'd like to get back to a bed - it's been awhile - and back to a regular commute."