By Rich Bockmann
Long Island Rail Road passengers can expect further delays during their morning and afternoon commutes, as the MTA and Amtrak have pushed the schedule to return normal service to the Friday morning rush hour.
“Last night, Amtrak informed the LIRR that repair work in the tunnel will take longer than anticipated. Because of that, Amtrak has revised its estimate for returning the tunnel back to service to Friday morning,” reads a statement on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority website.
On Sunday, an Amtrak train travelling in one of the four East River tunnels derailed, shutting down the tunnel and forcing the LIRR to cancel approximately 25 percent of its trains during rush hours, according to an LIRR spokesman. The cause of the derailment is still under investigation.
Amtrak had originally planned to have the tunnel ready for regular use Thursday morning, but re-railing the five de-railed cars, replacing several hundred damaged track ties and working in the tight, narrow conditions of the tunnel have set the schedule back, according to Cliff Cole, an Amtrak spokesman.
“We originally thought Thursday was a safe bet. We’ve since revised the schedule to Friday morning,” Cole said.
In response, the LIRR has cancelled a number of trains during the a.m. and p.m. rush hours and combined them with other trains. The MTA advises passengers to expect 10 to 20 minute delays and crowded trains on the affected lines.
Under the terms of their lease with Amtrak, the MTA and LIRR are able to operate within the tunnels, but Amtrak’s union employees have an exclusive right under their collective bargaining agreement to perform service and maintenance work within the tunnels, according to LIRR spokesman Salvatore Arena.
“We’re really at their mercy,” he said. “There has been some discussion by MTA board members who have expressed the opinion that the MTA and the LIRR should be granted ownership of the tunnels for maintenance and the purposes of use, instead of Amtrak telling us when they’re ready.”
Arena echoed the response made earlier in the week by LIRR President Helena Williams when she was asked if the terms of that release would be changed in response to Sunday’s derailment.
“That’s not gonna happen,” Arena said.
Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.