NEW YORK — New York City subways resumed service Monday after Tropical Storm Irene forced an unprecedented closure of the nation's largest mass transit system. Trains and buses in and around the metropolitan area faced their first major test as millions of commuters ventured to work for the first time since the storm hit.
The Metropolitan Transit Authority announced that limited service had resumed at 5:40 a.m. across the area. Metro-North Railroad, which serves the city's northern suburbs, remained closed because of flooding and other storm-related damage.
"The subway is running very well. I can't believe it, they did a great job," said Dominic Cecala, who took an E train from the city's west side to lower Manhattan. "If they hadn't stopped the trains on Saturday, it would have been a mess."
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the MTA announced late Sunday that the subways would reopen in time for the next day's early morning rush hour. They cautioned that service might be less frequent than normal and customers should expect more crowded trains.
The MTA's decision Saturday to halt all subways, buses and commuter trains in preparation for the storm — the first time a natural disaster ever closed the system down — had threatened to disrupt the start of the work week in the nation's most populous metropolitan area.
PATH trains in and out of the city from New Jersey were also expected to operate on a normal schedule. Greg Kurilli, an electrician who works in lower Manhattan, arrived at the World Trade Center station from Jersey City on time.
"I hope I won't be working anywhere near the water," he said.
Commuters heading to work before the subways reopened looked for other ways to get around.
Across from New York City Hall, Albert Thomas waited for a bus to take him to his job as a security guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He took a PATH train from Jersey City and hoped to connect to the Lexington Avenue subway line at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge, but the station was still closed.
"We've got the largest system in the world and they've got to wait until 6 a.m.," Thomas said, shaking his head.
The center of Irene passed over Central Park at midmorning with the storm packing 65 mph winds, but damage to New York City was less than feared. An evacuation order for low-lying city neighborhoods was lifted Sunday afternoon. By Sunday night, limited bus service started up.
The MTA said near-normal service would resume Monday on six of the Long Island Rail Road's 11 branches but riders should expect some cancellations.
Most New Jersey Transit trains were expected to be sidelined Monday.
With a daily ridership of more than 5 million, New York City's subway system is by far the nation's largest. Many New Yorkers do not have cars and would be hard-pressed to get around without the subway.
To get the subways running again, inspectors planned to walk all 800 miles of track, looking for damage to rails, switches and power sources, the transit agency said. Then they planned to test the tracks by running trains on them. Floodwater also would have to be pumped from train yards and other spots.
"Suspending service allowed the MTA to secure equipment, thus expediting the return to service," Cuomo said in a statement.
Associated Press writers David B. Caruso and Verena Dobnik contributed to this report.