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Amtrak signal problem causes commuter rail woes

Commuters stood around a departure board in South Station on Thursday.
Commuters stood around a departure board in South Station on Thursday.Barry Chin/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

UPDATE: The signal problem has been fixed, the MBTA announced Friday, and service has resumed at South Station.

Thousands of commuter rail riders are being asked to avoid South Station Thursday evening and catch their trains at other stops because of a broken Amtrak signal that also snarled the morning commute, according to the state transportation department.

The only commuter rail trains that will depart from South Station Thursday evening are Providence/Attleboro and Stoughton line trains. Passengers from all other lines are asked to take trains leaving from other stations, with the trains arriving and leaving at about the same time as their normal schedules:

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Fairmount: All trains will start and end at New Market, with a bus between Newmarket and South Station.

Framingham/Worcester: All trains will start and end at Back Bay.

Providence: All trains will start and end at South Station.

Needham: All trains will start and end at Forest Hills.

Greenbush: All trains will start and end at Quincy Center.

Franklin: All trains will start and end at Back Bay.

Middleboro: All trains will start and end at JFK/UMass.

Kingston/Plymouth: All trains will start and end at Braintree.

Mike Tolbert, a spokesman from Amtrak, said the damaged signal was being operated manually Thursday afternoon, limiting how many trains could arrive at and depart from the station.

“Amtrak service in and out of Boston South Station continues to experience delays between 30 minutes to 2 hours due to a signal issue,” he wrote in an e-mail. “Engineering forces are actively working to fix the issue and restore scheduled service.”

At Back Bay Station, many commuters arrived before 4 p.m. to get a jump on their evening trip home.

They were greeted with long lines of people waiting to board commuter trains heading south and west of Boston, and they listened closely for announcements of cancellations, delays, and other changes.

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“It doesn’t make sense,” said Angela Florez, 55, of South Attleboro, who was hoping to catch the Providence train home.

“I can’t tell if the train is coming or going,” she said.

Florenz had left South Attleboro on a train at 7:45 a.m. She later took two subway lines to visit a friend in Revere.

“I got there a couple hours late because of the delays.”

Linda Constantine, 37, of Franklin texted a picture of the crowd to her boss at Liberty Mutual.

“I left a little early, because I thought it might be crowded,” said Constantine, who worried that she might not make it home in time to pick up her young children.

“But, oh my God, I didn’t expect this,” Constantine said, looking at the crowd waiting to get down the stairs to a train platform.

For some, the crowded platforms and cancellation announcements brought back memories of last winter’s transit meltdown.

“This can’t really be happening again” said Nirvana Mercier, 51, a nurse at Boston Medical Center as she dashed to make a train home to Mansfield.

Thursday morning, Governor Charlie Baker expressed exasperation with the commuter mess.

“Believe me, I feel the frustration that people feel. ... I’ve been ready to strangle somebody all day. I’m just waiting for somebody who looks like they deserve to be strangled,” he quipped in a WGBH interview.

Passengers who take commuter rail trains to and from South Station were advised Thursday morning at the height of rush hour to seek alternative routes due to a signal problem at the busy transit hub.

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The signal problem, which the T said was between South Station and Back Bay Station, brought commuter rail traffic coming into and out of the station to a standstill.

“We urge passengers to please take alternate transportation as the Commuter Rail is experiencing major delays due to an Amtrak signal outage,” commuter rail officials said in a statement.

The signal problem affected all commuter rail lines in and out of South Station during the morning, except for the Franklin line.

Riders were receiving free transfers to subway lines because of the diversions.

Approximately 40,000 riders travel each morning on the commuter rail trains into South Station, said Jacquelyn Goddard, a spokeswoman for the transportation department. But because it’s school vacation week, ridership isn’t as high, she said.

The Red Line also experienced delays Thursday morning. A disabled train at South Station led to 30 minute delays in service.

MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo also said that because people would be seeking alternative routes due to disruptions along the commuter rail, the South Station delays would bring “extra passenger volume on the subway, impacting service.”

Leslie Aun, a spokeswoman for Keolis Commuter Services, apologized to riders for the “frustrating” commute, and placed blame on Amtrak for the delays.

“We’re frustrated, we know people are frustrated, we’re hearing it and seeing it, and we are doing the best we can to deal with the situation this morning,” she said. “We empathize with our passengers completely. We just want everyone to be safe this morning, and please, ask them to try to be patient.”

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Photos shared by riders on social media showed overflowing station platforms at Back Bay and other stops where commuter rail passengers don’t typically disembark.