They are the bane of homeowners everywhere for their habit of raiding bird feeders, but who knew squirrels had the power to bring an entire transit system to a standstill?
Apparently that's what one wayward squirrel did earlier this month, according to an Amtrak spokesman.
While thousands of commuters cursed the fates and blamed aging infrastructure of the delays during the evening commute on Oct. 4, the real culprit was a squirrel that came into contact with a circuit-breaker, Amtrak spokesman Cliff Cole told The Record of Woodland Park.
The circuit-breaker damage caused an electrical transformer to trip and a signal that guides locomotive engineers to go dark.
"It's like if you're going through a highway or a street and the traffic lights go out," Cole said. "When those go dark you have no way of knowing whether it's safe to go."
Nearly 100 NJ Transit trains and 30 Amtrak trains were affected. Some were canceled, and others were delayed.
Train experts say animals rarely cause widespread train delays but that this squirrel wasn't the first.
A Metro-North Railroad spokeswoman told the newspaper a 45-minute delay in May occurred when a squirrel caused a transformer to short out. Cole said other problems have been caused by pigeons and raccoons.
Cole said Amtrak has been installing higher security fences and using other measures over the years to keep out animal intruders, but the critters still are able to get into restricted areas on rare occasions.