Amtrak will use $86 million in Sandy federal recovery funds to improve maintenance of four East River tunnels that carry hundreds of thousands of Long Island Rail Road customers in and out of Manhattan every day, Sen. Charles Schumer announced Monday.
In the year since the storm, several issues involving broken rails in the tunnels have led to hours-long delays for commuters traveling through Penn Station, Schumer noted.
"These tunnels are the weakest link in the commute of hundreds of thousands of Long Islanders," he said. "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."
Amtrak owns the four single-track tunnels that run under the East River to Penn Station, although the New York-based MTA operates the LIRR, as well as the New York City transit system and the Metro-North commuter line that runs north of Manhattan.
Planned changes include replacing all of the old "jointed rail" segments that are prone to failure in the tunnels, as well as new initiatives for improved track inspection and a new pre-emptive track maintenance and replacement program. Schumer said he worked out the agreement following a September meeting with Amtrak Chairman Anthony Coscia.
"Amtrak's ongoing and planned Penn Station initiatives, outlined today by Chairman Coscia to Senator Schumer, underscore the urgency to move forward to improve the aging and degrading infrastructure," Amtrak spokesman Cliff Cole said in a statement.
Amtrak uses the tunnels for its service between New York and Boston, but they are primarily used by the LIRR trains in and out of Manhattan. The LIRR is the second largest-commuter railroad in the nation, with an estimated daily ridership of about 280,000, said spokesman Aaron Donovan. He said the vast majority of travelers use Penn Station, the railroad's busiest hub.
"The tunnels are a mess," said Mark Epstein, chairman of Long Island Rail Road Commuter Council. "The riders depend on those trains to get back and forth to work. So we're glad someone has heard our pleas and is finally going to do something about it."