Long Island Rail Road riders experienced their first normal rush-hour commute in six weeks Monday as the agency restored all of its usual trains following Sandy-related repairs.
State officials on Sunday announced that Amtrak had completed repairs in one of two East River rail tunnels that were damaged by floodwaters during the Oct. 29 superstorm. That allowed the LIRR, which had been operating at 70 percent during rush hour, to run its normal 143 trains in the morning and 127 Monday evening.
"We're keenly aware that the last six weeks have been difficult for our customers," LIRR customer service vice president Joe Calderone said. "As we all know, it [Sandy] was an extraordinary event. And we're glad that we were able before Christmas to get back the capacity that we need to provide regular service."
One train was canceled at Jamaica Monday morning and there were some delays, but none related to the tunnel, he said.
"This morning it seemed normal, where it should be," David Greaves, 50, of Uniondale, said as he changed trains at Jamaica in the morning.
Mark Epstein, chairman of the LIRR Commuter Council, which worked with Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington) to persuade Amtrak to move up its tunnel repair schedule, called the return to full service "a real holiday present for commuters in a busy travel season."
"We riders have had a difficult month, with cancellations, longer commutes, delays and, of course, severe overcrowding and an uncomfortable ride during the rush hours," Epstein said in a statement. "By restoring the tunnels' capacity to handle a full LIRR rush-hour schedule, Amtrak and the LIRR make it possible for riders to take another step toward returning their lives to normal."
Calderone said Amtrak remains on pace to complete repairs in the second flooded tunnel this weekend.
Riders won't notice a difference from that work, he said, but the added tunnel will give the LIRR some "operational flexibility" in case another service disruption occurs near Penn Station.
With commuter service back to normal levels, the LIRR will offer extra weekend trains during the holiday season, Calderone said.