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Phone outage hits thousands
Friday, March 17, 2000
The Grand Rapids Press
Thousands of Ameritech customers from West Michigan to Lansing and Jackson lost phone service Thursday, including Michigan Lottery offices.
The problem began at 9 a.m. and its cause was not immediately clear, Ameritech spokeswoman Julie Balmer said.
The phone outage is being blamed on a CSX freight train blocking traffic at several Holland intersections during lunchtime.
The train sat on the tracks between 15th and 32nd Streets about 11:40 a.m. for about 35 minutes.
CSX workers finally had to split the train into sections to let traffic through at the intersections of 16th, 24th and 32nd streets while they tried to contact the local Wyoming office and later the railroad's dispatch center in Jacksonville, Fla.
Cell phones, the crews' backup method for communicating when the radio was down, were not working, either.
Under federal law, a train is required to stop when communication is down.
"They don't know if they have a clear track or not," Holland Police Officer Rob Brewer said.
Although the Holland police department has been cracking down on trains that block intersections, CSX was not cited Thursday afternoon because the problem was mechanical, Brewer said.
Around 9 a.m., all 6,400 electronic lottery terminals statewide shut down because they could not communicate with the lottery's main computer in Lansing.
Communication was restored for about 5,400 terminals by 1 p.m., but by then the Daily Game's noon drawing had passed. The remaining 1,000 terminals were up by 4 p.m.
Lottery spokeswoman Sarah Lapshan estimated that about half of the noon drawing's sales were lost. Of the estimated $300,000 in lost sales, about $105,000 would have gone to the school aid fund.
The outage also kept consumers out of the Secretary of State's computer system.
Balmer said she did not know how many people were affected or could not define the geographical boundaries where service was knocked out.
Other state offices in Lansing with internal telecommunications systems largely were unaffected by the outage, said Kelly Chesney, a spokeswoman for the Department of Management and Budget.
Communication between computers at Secretary of State branch offices and main computers in Lansing were down for about three hours.
Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Boyd said branch transactions were handled manually and that service was not interrupted.
Ameritech officials say the outage that affected Lansing was caused during routine maintenance at a Lansing utility during a switch from battery power back to regular power.
Beyond that, Ameritech spokeswoman Jody Juckem had no details.
While she could not say how many customers were affected by the phone outage, she said 99 percent of them had their phones restored by 10 a.m.
Phone problems also made it difficult for Consumers Energy customers to reach the company. Company officials are asking anyone who tried to call Thursday to call back today at (800) 477-5050.
-- - (firstname.lastname@example.org), March 17, 2000