2017-06-07 / Features

Schumer To MTA, Amtrak: Use $400M To Finally Repair Sandy Damage

Germane to the Gazette Editorial of May 31, (“Mass Transit Should Take Front Seat”), US Senator Charles E. Schumer has addressed the ongoing situation with our mass transit:

On the heels of a massive Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) delay and electrical failure within the East River Tunnels, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer and a bipartisan group of local elected officials and commuter advocates demanded on June 1 that Amtrak and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) set a plan with an ambitious deadline to use $432 million in federal funds Schumer secured to repair the East River Tunnels – “before its festering issues get even worse.” Despite Schumer successfully securing $432 million in unused Sandy relief funds for repairs to the East River Tunnels, Amtrak and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) have yet to make any meaningful or real progress on dedicating the funding to the critically needed project and repairs.

“Plain and simple, the MTA and Amtrak need to repair the East River Tunnels, fast. The $430 million in federal dollars that I secured are sitting there and now we just need MTA and Amtrak to set a plan with real deadlines to put that money to work for LIRR commuters. Those tunnels are the most important link in the commute of hundreds of thousands of Long Islanders and a problem in one tunnel – like we saw this week – creates a nightmarish domino effect for the entire LIRR system, and that’s not acceptable, especially considering we have the funds to fix this,” said Senator Schumer. “With train delays and disruptions on the rise, it’s time for Amtrak and the MTA to immediately commit to repairing and upgrading the East River Tunnels and use the $432 million we’ve already secured.

Schumer pointed out that since Superstorm Sandy, the number of trains that were delayed, canceled or terminated because of issues with the East River Tunnel have increased by 72%, a problem that Schumer says is likely to get worse as time goes on. While not necessarily as a result of damage from Superstorm Sandy, given that salt water is corrosive to electrical systems and more, the prior damage to the tunnels from Sandy flooding will only lead to more problems in the future. This week’s third rail electrical problem led to a 3-hour LIRR delay and impacted thousands of commuters, a situation which will only repeat itself if repair work to the tunnel does not begin soon. Schumer has already written to Interim MTA Director Ronnie Hakim and Amtrak President Charles Moorman asking for an immediate update on the status of repairs to the East River Tunnels and said that the two agencies should quickly work together to address these desperately needed repairs.

This week, problems along the electrified third rail inside one of the East River Tunnels resulted in long delays and the cancellation of 17 rush-hour LIRR trains, impacting approximately thousands of commuters. Two trains were stranded in the tunnel when the power failure occurred; one train had to be towed by a relief train.

Schumer explained that the East River Tunnels are a critical part of the transportation system in the New York metro area and carry more than 300,000 passengers daily. Despite being maintained and operated by Amtrak, the four single-track tunnels are a shared regional asset and provide invaluable service to both the railroad and major regional transit agencies. Superstorm Sandy badly damaged the East River Tunnels with approximately 14 million gallons of floodwaters. According to Amtrak reports, corrosive salts and chlorides from the storm continue to impact the tunnels’ underground structures. Over time, delays and breakdowns involving the East River Tunnels have increased and Schumer said that this problem will undoubtedly get worse if repairs are not made immediately.

Schumer successfully secured $432 million in unused Sandy relief funds for repairs to the East River Tunnels; the federal funds were awarded as part of an $800 million allotment of funding for transportation infrastructure resiliency projects. Last summer, following Schumer’s push, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) released these funds to the MTA. At the time, the MTA committed that they would use the funds to advance repairs in the East River Tunnels. In his letter, Schumer said that, since securing these funds, it appears as though no meaningful progress has been made by Amtrak or the MTA on the East River Tunnels project.

Schumer called on Amtrak and the MTA on Thursday to immediately use the $432 million federal funds to rebuild the East River Tunnels before disruptions related to the East River Tunnels continue to get worse. Schumer maintained that it is unacceptable to allow the project to be delayed or stalled, especially given the fact that federal dollars have been secured from the FTA. Schumer said that Amtrak and the MTA must immediately work together to make sure this project advances in a timely fashion.

Senator Schumer’s comments were affirmed by the following New York State Senators: Carl L. Marcellino (R-Syosset), Elaine Phillips (R-Flower Hill) and Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach); New York State Assembly Members Chuck Lavine (D-Glen Cove) and Kimberly Jean-Pierre (D-Babylon); Laureen Harris, President, Association for a Better Long Island; and Mark Epstein, Chairman of the Long Island Railroad Commuter Council.

“Day after day, Long Island commuters are being harassed by massive service disruptions and system failures. Amtrak and the MTA’s lack of effort to establish a clear and effective maintenance and infrastructure plan has directly led us to the transportation disaster we face now. The East River Tunnels (ERT) repairs are a perfect example. Thanks to federal funding secured by Senator Schumer, the money needed to fix the ERT is available. The real question is why the MTA and Amtrak have not come together to access the funding and start the project? They must put the needs of the ridership first and kickstart these repairs immediately. Our commuters are fed up with delays in the boardroom and at the train stations. We demand action,” said New York State Senator Carl L. Marcellino (R-Syosset).

“The recurring nightmare LIRR riders are enduring right now will only get worse if the East River Tunnels are not fixed. As we saw on Tuesday, malfunctions in the tunnels cripple LIRR service. Repairing this vital link between Long Island and Penn Station is paramount to provide the over 300,000 daily LIRR commuters with the dependable, reliable service they expect and deserve. The MTA and Amtrak must prioritize these repairs and work together to get them done, now. I support Senator Schumer’s efforts to get these much needed improvements moving forward as quickly as possible,” said New York State Senator Elaine Phillips (R – Flower Hill).

“Tuesday morning’s debacle in the East River Tunnels foreshadows the nightmarish summer that we’ve all been bracing for. All entities must work together to use the federal funding Sen. Schumer has already secured to fix the East River Tunnels immediately. Delays and breakdowns are frustrating commuters across Long Island and delaying work on the East River Tunnels just adds insult to injury. Our constituents expect and deserve action,” said New York State Senator Todd Kaminsky (D – Long Beach).

“Long Island Railroad commuters have suffered long enough and now it is urgent for the MTA and Amtrak to come together and begin the desperately needed repairs to the East River Tunnels once and for all. We are fortunate that Senator Schumer was able to secure $432 million in Sandy relief funds for this very purpose,” said New York State Assemblyman Chuck Lavine (D – Glen Cove).

“It’s been nearly five years since Superstorm Sandy devastated our communities and yet the rebuilding process continues at a painfully slow pace,” said Assemblywoman Kimberly Jean- Pierre. “This is particularly true for the LIRR East River Tunnels which were severely damaged by floodwaters. This damage has led to headaches for commuters and it’s only going to get worse until we fix them. That’s why I’m joining Senator Schumer and all of my colleagues to call on the MTA and Amtrak to repair these critical tunnels as soon as possible,” said New York State Assemblywoman Kimberly Jean-Pierre (D – Babylon).

“ABLI commends the Senator for ensuring vital repairs are made in the East River Tunnels. LIRR is the spine of the Long Island economy and without a functioning mass transit infrastructure beneath the East River the island is faced with a choke point that creates devastating consequences,” said Laureen Harris, President, Association for a Better Long Island.

“The Long Island Rail Road Commuter Council strongly supports Senator Schumer’s call to promptly repair Sandy related damage to the East River Tunnels. Long Island depends upon Amtrak’s East River tunnels, with LIRR riders making up the vast majority of the 300,000 passengers that pass through them each weekday. Although Amtrak faces substantial other needs, the project to repair the East River tunnels must keep moving forward to prevent an already intolerable situation from getting worse,” said Mark Epstein, Chairman, Long Island Railroad Commuter Council.

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