LIRR Tunnel Repair Date Bumped up to Christmas

Superstorm Sandy
Commuters navigate the Long Island Rail Road Jamaica Station Thursday, Nov. 1, 2012, in the New York City borough of Queens. New York City moved closer to resuming its frenetic pace by getting back its vital subways Thursday, three days after a superstorm, but neighboring New Jersey was stunned by miles of coastal devastation and the news of thousands of people in one city still stranded by increasingly fetid flood waters. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
Commuters navigate the Long Island Rail Road Jamaica Station Thursday, Nov. 1, 2012, in the New York City borough of Queens. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Superstorm Sandy flood damage to two of the four East River tunnels last month is expected to be repaired by Christmas, meaning the resulting Long Island Rail Road delays will last at least another four weeks.

Amtrak announced the new estimate—about a month earlier than prior estimation of mid-January—Tuesday after Rep. Steve Israel (D-Dix Hills) and LIRR Commuter Council Chair Mark Epstein chided the railroad for a lack of communication on the repair process.

“Communication, that’s the key,” said Epstein. “The least expensive and probably the most valuable commodity to a commuter is information.”

The LIRR said Sunday it’s running at 92 percent overall capacity and 80 percent of its rush-hour service. That’s because the temporary fixes to water-damaged electrical equipment in the two tunnels allow for only limited usage. More than two dozen peak trains have been regularly cancelled in the morning and evening commutes as a result.

“We are approaching the busiest holiday season for rail passengers in America,” said Israel. “We cannot have Christmas chaos. We need these tunnels open.”

Amtrak is in charge of repairs because it owns the century-old tunnels, which are shared by NJ Transit, the LIRR and Amtrak trains. They are mostly used by the LIRR, the nation’s second largest commuter railroad.

LIRR President Helena Williams was pleased to hear about the newly revised completion date.

“This is good news and it is what we have been advocating for,” she said in a statement. “We look forward to receiving a detailed installation plan from Amtrak to confirm exactly when each tunnel’s signal system will be restored to full service.”

Israel said the news is a step in the right direction, but didn’t let Amtrak off the hook.

“There is light at the end of the tunnel,” he said. “But we have not seen the light yet. When we see the light we will be satisfied.”