Deal Will Improve Maintenance Of Tunnels

MINEOLA, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Century-old tunnels that carry Long Island railroad passengers in and out of Manhattan have been undergoing an overhaul, and riders have said it’s about time.

As CBS 2’s Carolyn Gusoff reported Monday evening, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) brokered the deal to improve maintenance on the tunnels, following discussions with Amtrak. The deal came as track breakdowns and delays have plagued the railroad.

“It’s frustrating to the point where I don’t want to come back home,” one commuter said.

Delays are often blamed on tunnel problems. Amtrak owns the four tunnels that run under the East River, which carry 300,000 daily Long Island Rail Road in and out of Penn Station – even though the tunnels do not carry Amtrak passengers.

This summer, breaks in rails caused maddening delays three different times. And now, Amtrak has agreed to overhaul tunnel maintenance.

“The tunnels are the weakest link in the commute of hundreds of thousands of Long Islanders, and by bringing them up to a good state of repair, there will be many fewer delays,” said U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.)

But maintenance on the tunnels has been an afterthought, Schumer said.

“To replace aging rails, increase the frequency of tunnel inspections and implement new protocols that will improve the Long Island Rail Road’s efficiency,” he said. “It’s going to prioritize fixing infrastructure that is at the end or past its useful life before it breaks down.”

Amtrak has agreed to replace aging rails with new, stronger welded rails, inspect tracks more often and faster, and implement a new policy to replace parts before they break.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority welcomed the announcement. Riders said there needs to be an overhaul in communication too.

“People can spend three four hours a day commuting,” said LIRR Commuter Council chairman Mark Epstein. “That’s a large chunk of your every day, and they are entitled to know, how they should leave their office and go to Penn station?”

Schumer has asked President Barack Obama to tap New York State Sen. Charles Fuschillo Jr. (R-Massapequa) to fill a vacancy on the Amtrak board and give Long Islanders more say on the tunnels they use.

“It is absurd that they haven’t had a representative on the Amtrak Board from Long Island,” Fuschillo said. “We are literally held hostage to their maintenance and efficiency.”

It will not be a quick fix. The goal is to overhaul the tunnels’ condition in the next three to five years, but the procedures will take effect immediately.

“We’ve provided Amtrak with $86 million in Sandy relief funds and much of the money for that work will come from that pot,” said Schumer. “The money is there, Amtrak now has agreed to do it and within a short while, the number of breakdowns on the LIRR should decrease.”

Amtrak has agreed to use part of the $86 million it received in Sandy aid to implement its new tunnel maintenance plan.

LIRR ticket machine at the Mineola station. (credit: Peter Haskell/WCBS 880)

LIRR ticket machine at the Mineola station. (credit: Peter Haskell/WCBS 880)

Some commuters Monday morning were skeptical about the changes.

“Promises are easy to talk about but hard to do,” one person told WCBS 880’s Sean Adams.

“It’s difficult for institutions to work together and unfortunately sometimes the commuters are on the receiving end of some of those problems,” said another.

Malfunctions in the four tunnels in recent years have created major commuter nightmares throughout the region.

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