Happy 115th anniversary to the East River Tunnels

Happy 115th anniversary to the East River Tunnels

On Sept. 8, 1908, there was a celebration for the first day of direct Long Island Rail Road service to Penn Station.  This was a great day for transportation history.  Prior to this LIRR riders had to transfer to ferries from Long Island City to access Manhattan. The date represents the 115th anniversary of direct LIRR service from Queens, Nassau and Suffolk County to Manhattan.   

Fast forward to 2023. Ongoing cancellation and combining of trains due to signal and other problems in the East River tunnels, along with other locations on all nine branches of the LIRR system, will continue for years to come. Amtrak will not initiate decades-overdue major repairs of the East River tunnels until 2024.   

This work on all four tunnels, including two that suffered significant damages from 2012 Super Storm Sandy, will not be completed until 2027. Amtrak has previously gone on record that these two tunnels will require a minimum of one year each for completion. It will require one of two tunnels damaged by Super Storm Sandy being out of service at a time for one year to support this work.

The other two tunnels will need similar work.  With only three of four tunnels available, there will be a reduction in Penn Station access and capacity.  To preserve existing service, many LIRR rush hour trains will be canceled or combined. Until this work is over, it will be impossible to guarantee safe and reliable on-time service to Penn Station for LIRR commuters.

Reduced East River tunnel capacity makes it difficult to add previously promised new services  This includes Metro North East Bronx New Haven line access to Penn Station and a 50% overall increase in reverse peak service after the opening of East Side Access to Grand Central Madison. 

Both Amtrak and New Jersey Transit need access to the Queens Sunnyside Yards via the East River tunnels to support their own respective planned service increases.  Going from four to three available East River tunnels results in a significant capacity reduction. This translates to no increase in existing or new services until work on all four East River tunnels is completed.

Larry Penner

Great Neck

Larry Penner is a transportation advocate, historian and writer who previously served as a former Director for the Federal Transit Administration Region 2 New York Office of Operations and Program Management.



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