Officials: LIRR service near normal
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Long Island Rail Road service was close to normal Monday as the reopened East River tunnels allowed most of its trains to deliver most of its usual morning riders to Penn Station.
The LIRR offered what officials said was 83 percent of its weekday service after two weeks of major disruptions caused by superstorm Sandy. Last week, the LIRR was operating about 45 percent of its usual service.
The storm flooded two of four East River rail tunnels that the LIRR uses to access Penn Station. Amtrak, which owns and maintains the tunnels, finished temporary repairs inside the tunnels late last week.
"It was a relief for our customers and our employees to have all four tunnels back in service," LIRR president Helena Williams said Monday. "We're back to a weekday schedule, and that's very important for our customers. Trains were very crowded last week, and we thank them for their patience."
The LIRR has canceled 19 trains during the morning rush and 23 in the evening.
About 76,000 customers took trains into Penn Station Monday -- about 10,000 more than on Friday. The LIRR usually averages about 80,000 morning riders. Railroad officials noted that Veterans Day, a federal holiday, was observed Monday, and many commuters likely had the day off.
Among those happy to return to a regular commute was Peter D'Albenzio, of West Babylon, who said he withstood shoulder-to-shoulder crowds on infrequent trains to get to work and back last week.
"Things were definitely very close to being back to normal," said D'Albenzio, 30, who works for a financial consulting firm in Manhattan. His train Monday was more crowded than normal after the Jamaica stop, he said.
"Is it the best situation? No. But I understand that they're working on it," he said.
Officials have said it may be next year before LIRR service is back to 100 percent.
Williams said the floodwaters, which entered the tunnels from the Queens side, submerged signal cases mounted high on the tunnel walls that contained delicate and complex electrical components.
The tunnels have been fitted with a temporary signal system that restricts train capacity.
The LIRR Tuesday starts taking recorded rider comments about the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's proposed rate increase next year. Customers will be able to record video testimony between 6 and 10 a.m. at the Hicksville station, and Wednesday between 6 and 10 a.m. at Ronkonkoma.