Pressure from the state's elected officials on Amtrak kicked up another notch Thursday, with Sen. Charles Schumer calling on the national rail company to increase maintenance efforts at Penn Station and personally telling its leader that Long Island Rail Road passengers need to be "the highest priority."
Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he spoke by telephone Thursday with Boardman and "demanded" that the agency immediately fix drainage problems inside the East River tunnels that may have led to two major LIRR service outages over the last month.
"I told him that it's just unacceptable," Schumer said in an interview. "These tunnels carry hundreds of thousands of people to and from Long Island every day."
The LIRR, the nation's largest commuter railroad, runs 447 trains in and out of Penn Station using the four tunnels on a typical weekday. The tunnels are owned by Amtrak but primarily used by the LIRR.
In a statement, Amtrak spokesman Cliff Cole said the agency "appreciates" Schumer's concerns and will respond to him "shortly."
Schumer is one of several elected officials, including Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and state Sen. Charles Fuschillo (R-Merrick), to come down on Amtrak officials over the past week for their handling of maintenance and repairs in the tunnels.
The LIRR was forced to cancel and delay several trains for four days last week as Amtrak repaired the damage caused when one of its trains derailed inside a tunnel on May 8.
Following the discovery, MTA chief Jay Walder wrote a letter to Amtrak president Joseph Boardman, requesting that the company take "critical remedial measures" to fix the drainage. Amtrak officials responded with a letter proposing actions, MTA spokesman Jeremy Soffin said Thursday.
"It highlights the critical importance of this issue and of keeping a focus on our customers," Soffin said.
MTA board member Mitchell Pally said he doubts Amtrak's actions will go far enough. Pally, of Stony Brook, has called for the MTA to take over maintenance, or even ownership, of Penn Station and the tunnels.
"I think the discussion will continue on a long-range solution to the problem," said Pally, who credited lawmakers for pushing Amtrak on the problems. "People are starting to pay attention to an issue that maybe should have been paid attention to before."
Friday morning, 22 of the 98 trains normally traveling to Penn Station will be canceled, terminated early or diverted -- the same number as Thursday's disruption. Of the 22:
- 12 will be canceled.
- 5 will operate normally, then terminate at Jamaica where customers can board other trains for Penn Station or take an E subway train to Manhattan. For a less crowded and more comfortable ride, passengers for lower Manhattan can use the J and Z subway lines to and from Jamaica. New York City Transit will honor LIRR tickets on the subway.
- 4 trains will be diverted to Atlantic Terminal, Brooklyn.
- 1 train will be diverted to Hunterspoint Avenue.
Riders should allow extra travel time and expect 10- to 20-minute delays, the LIRR says. Stopping patterns on some trains may change, so listen for announcements or check out the signs.