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Amtrak announces fix for East River Tunnels

AP Photo/Paul Sancya
By Alex Robinson

U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) revealed a new Amtrak plan Monday aimed at lessening disruptions in its East River tunnels for travel between Long Island and Penn Station.

The tunnels, used by Long Island Rail Road commuters traveling to and from Penn Station, were responsible for at least five derailments and major delays in recent months.

The LIRR is operated by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which would like to have control over the maintenance of Amtrak’s East River tunnels.

“These tunnels are the weakest link in the commute of hundreds of thousands of Long Islanders, and by bringing them up to a state of good repair, we’ll reduce the frequency of the maddening delays, reroutes and cancellations that currently happen far too often,” Schumer said. “By committing to repairing and upgrading the tunnels, Amtrak is committing to improve the day-to-day life of almost anyone who rides the LIRR.”

Thousands of Queens commuters ride on the LIRR every day between the borough and Penn Station.

The poor state of the tunnels prompted Schumer to meet with Amtrak Chairman Anthony Coscia in September to discuss a plan to properly address the problems.

“In response to the ongoing challenges and service disruptions over the past year, Amtrak has developed short- and long-range plans to address infrastructure issues in the Penn Station New York complex, including the East River tunnels,” an Amtrak spokesman in a statement.

The new initiative will include increased inspections, the replacement of old joint rails and a new maintenance philosophy, in which Amtrak will pre-emptively replace parts before they fail. Amtrak will use some of the $86 million it received in federal relief funds for Superstorm Sandy, which flooded and damaged the tunnels, to pay for the upgrades, said Schumer.

Amtrak’s goal is to bring the East River Tunnels into a state of good repair within three to five years.

Schumer also called for state Sen. Chuck Fuschillo (R-Merrick) to be appointed to the Amtrak board of directors. Fuschillo, who is chairman of the state Senate’s Transportation Committee, would bring Long Island representation to the board and facilitate focus on the problems LIRR commuters face, said Schumer.

“Amtrak is taking positive steps to improve the tunnels, but giving LIRR riders a voice on the board is critically important to ensure that Amtrak understands and hears their concerns. I am honored that Sen. Schumer is recommending me for appointment to Amtrak’s board of directors to be that voice,” said Fuschillo.

Reach reporter Alex Robinson by e-mail at arobinson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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