Sen. Charles Schumer Friday called on the federal government to appoint a Long Island Rail Road commuter to Amtrak's board of directors, following several Amtrak-caused service disruptions that affected LIRR riders.
Joined by LIRR Commuter Council chairman Mark Epstein, who first proposed a commuter representative on the national board, Schumer said for too long Long Islanders have been getting "transportation without representation."
Although the LIRR is the primary user of Penn Station and the four East River tunnels, Amtrak owns and maintains them. And so, Schumer said, when Amtrak has a problem in or near Penn, its LIRR's 300,000 daily commuters who suffer the most.
"Here's the problem. Amtrak is a huge nationwide organization," Schumer said at a news conference at the Hicksville LIRR station. "They do a pretty good job maintaining their assets, but when you're a huge operation with problems all over the place, Long Island doesn't get the focus that it needs."
Schumer noted that this summer alone there have been six Amtrak-related service disruptions on the LIRR, including delays Thursday morning because of signal problems in one of the tunnels.
Amtrak's seven-member board, formally known as National Railroad Passenger Corp. board of directors, currently has a vacant seat. President Barack Obama appoints most of its members, who serve five-year terms.
Schumer said he would lobby the White House, Congress and the Department of Transportation to fill the seat with a Long Islander who would "make sure that tunnel maintenance is tiptop."
Epstein said that in the first six months of 2013 more than 12 percent of LIRR delays were caused by "problems with Amtrak facilities or operations." He said those problems aren't isolated to the tunnels, but could include such issues as malfunctioning escalators in Penn Station.
"Amtrak's problems have become the Long Island Rail Road's problems," Epstein said.
Amtrak spokesman Clifford Cole declined to comment specifically on Schumer's call Friday, but said last month that Amtrak had recently opened up "a line of communication" with the LIRR Commuter Council "in an effort to disseminate all relevant operational information impacting Amtrak and Long Island Rail Road passengers."
"We will continue to share operational information with our partners at the Long Island Rail Road and the Commuter Council and welcome their ideas going forward for enhancing the communication process," Cole said.