Politicians demand Amtrak, MTA move on service and repair plans

Politicians demand Amtrak, MTA move on service and repair plans
The station for the Port Washington branch of the LIRR (Photo from the MTA)

Sen. Charles Schumer and a group of local and state elected officials on Thursday demanded that Amtrak and the MTA set a plan to use $432 million in Sandy relief funds he secured to repair the East River Tunnels, the source of Tuesday’s massive delays.

Schumer said the MTA has not made any true progress on dedicating the funding to critical projects and repairs.

He also noted that train delays, cancellations and terminations because of East River Tunnel issues have increased by 72 percent since Superstorm Sandy and will likely get worse as time goes on unless repairs are made.

While not necessarily as a result of damage from Superstorm Sandy, Schumer said, this week’s third rail electrical problem led to a three-hour LIRR delay and impacted thousands of commuters. He said it was “a situation which will only repeat itself if repair work to the tunnel does not begin soon.”

This follows a long series of woes, including massive service disruptions after Memorial Day Weekend, signal problems on May 8 and May 3 that spawned service suspensions and delays, and train derailments on March 24 and April 3.

Currently, Amtrak’s plan will have three of Penn’s 21 tracks out for repairs. The summer work will affect commuters from July 10 to September 1.

Amtrak said their own service will face the most issues. This includes reduction of Amtrak service at Penn by around 40 percent and canceling six trains running between New York and Washington D.C.

Amtrak defended its planned disruptions to rush-hour train service at Penn Station for summer renovations, emphasizing the necessity of making vital repairs to prepare the station for the future.

Amtrak Executive Vice President Stephen Gardner said at a New Jersey legislature hearing that fitting renewal and maintenance work into weekends to avoid service disruptions would not be the way to address fundamental issues with Penn Station’s “operational reliability.”

“The paradigm of fitting vital renewal and maintenance work into limited windows so that peak period service is never impacted must change if we are to get ahead of the challenge and start toward a path to greater operational reliability,” Newsday reported Gardner as saying.

State Senator Elaine Phillips (R-C- Manhasset) said that while the repairs are necessary, it will frustrate local commuters and lead to reductions in LIRR service.

“Commuters in my district are paying as much as $297 a month in LIRR fares,” Phillips said previously. “Like any tenant, they deserve a refund if the landlord isn’t providing services. If their service is being cut, their fares should be too.”

The LIRR has not announced a detailed service plan yet. An MTA spokesman said it might be released today, but that it’s “a little bit uncertain” and currently a work in progress.

The New Jersey Transit Authority, meanwhile, announced Morris and Essex line reductions and fare reductions for those impacted by reduced service.

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