Long Island lawmakers urge Amtrak to repair East River Tunnels now

Long Island Rail Road
Commuters enter a Long Island Rail Road train on July 15, 2014 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. Photo credit Spencer Platt/Getty Images

MINEOLA, N.Y. (WCBS 880) — Long Island lawmakers are urging Amtrak to make repairs to the East River Tunnels now, not later.

Every Long Island Rail Road train that goes to New York City has to travel through the tunnels, but the tunnel sustained significant damage during Superstorm Sandy and continues to corrode.

New York State Senator Todd Kaminsky says there is no argument the tunnels need to be repaired.

“Many times, commuters find themselves sitting in these tunnels frustrated because of a breakdown because there are problems with the tunnel, so it'll certainly make their commute a lot better,” he said.

However, Kaminsky and other lawmakers on Long Island want the repairs to be done now while Amtrak wants to wait.

“Amtrak’s decision is ‘Hey we're going to fix these tunnels when trains can go to Grand Central from Long Island. We’ll use some of those tubes and we’ll close down the East River once and do a full repair.’ And that concerns myself and the other legislators and county executives that signed this letter for a number of reasons,” Kaminsky said. “First, that's a long way away. These titles need to be repaired right away. But, more importantly: no one's riding the Rail Road right now so, it's a great time to do those repairs and you don't need a total shut down.”

New York and New Jersey are also waiting for Amtrak and the federal government to conduct repairs on the Hudson River Tunnels, which were also significantly damaged in Superstorm Sandy.

Amtrak responded with the following statement:

"Amtrak appreciates the delegation’s inquiry and is happy to arrange a comprehensive technical briefing on the matter. Far from delaying work on this project, Amtrak has been driving the design of a full rehabilitation of two of these four critical tunnel tubes – extensive work that involves more elements than simpler subway tunnels like the Canarsie tube. Throughout the design process, we’ve been working with the LIRR and MTA, first to schedule the work so it would have the least impact on passengers following the opening of East Side Access, and now, to look at advancing it sooner so that MTA officials can achieve Metro North Access to Penn Station sooner as part of their Penn Access program.

Amtrak’s design for this transformative rehab, which will improve safety and reliability for the next 100 years, will be complete by the end of 2021 and with funding could be ready for construction soon thereafter.  We continue to look at options for accelerating this work and minimizing impacts on Amtrak and LIRR customers but won’t consider shortcuts that simply defer problems.  In the meantime, a broader set of reliability improvements, including an innovative program to mitigate pervasive leaks in the ERT, is underway now. That is work that can be done on nights and weekends to immediately improve reliability without threatening LIRR service. It doesn’t fully renew the 100-year life expectancy of the tunnel, but Amtrak is committed to both immediate and long term, lasting improvement for riders.

The East River Tunnel is an essential national asset that lies at the heart of Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor. Amtrak continues to work closely with MTA to develop engineering means and methods that could expedite the benefits rehabilitation will bring but we cannot responsibly forgo the generational opportunity to exponentially improve safety for our customers, employees and traveling public and ensure that the New York tunnel system remains reliable today and well into the future.

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