Progress in restoring regular LIRR service

After superstorm Sandy, a LIRR train station in After superstorm Sandy, a LIRR train station in Northport appears empty. (Oct. 31, 2012) Photo Credit: Mario Gonzalez

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Signals in two East River rail tunnels flooded by superstorm Sandy were being tested for modified use Friday, transit officials said, but there's no telling when Long Island commuters will have regular weekday train service restored. Amtrak, which owns and operates the four tunnels into Penn Station, is installing a modified signal system that Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials say "may not provide the same train capacity that existed before the storm."

The Long Island Rail Road was operating on a modified schedule, about 45 percent of its normal capacity, 11 days after the height of the storm due to repair work in two of the four tunnels used by Amtrak, New Jersey Transit and LIRR.

"Progress has been made on work within the East River tunnels with final testing being conducted," Amtrak spokesman Cliff Cole said in an email last night.

But Cole, noting there's still no "exact timing for opening" the tunnels, could not say whether full LIRR service to Penn Station will be restored in time for the Monday morning commute.

Crowding, track changes and the suspension of service for hours on Wednesday evening due to a snowstorm drew the ire of frustrated commuters this week, many of whom have relied even more on the railroad due to gasoline shortages.

"For the LIRR, these are the four most important tunnels. To Amtrak, it is one of many tunnels in their system," said Mitch Pally, an MTA board member who represents Long Island.

LIRR Commuter Council chairman Mark Epstein said riders deserve a projected timetable of when full service in the tunnels will be restored.

"This falls squarely on the shoulders of Amtrak," said Epstein, a lawyer who commutes to his office in Manhattan by rail. "They need to move heaven and earth to get this fixed."

The Oct. 29 storm filled the century-old rail tunnels with salt water, severely flooding signals and electrical switches.

LIRR expects to offer more train service as each tunnel becomes available. A regular Saturday/Sunday schedule will be in effect this weekend, MTA officials said.

The LIRR has restored train service to 10 of its 11 branches. Service remains suspended on the Long Beach branch and is currently being replaced by bus service. Service between Riverhead and Greenport has been restored after workers repaired a damaged railroad drainage pipe in Mattituck.

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