Long Island Rail Road customers could get some relief next week from the crowded conditions they've endured since superstorm Sandy.
If Amtrak this weekend completes repairs and improvements in and around one of two East River tunnels damaged in the storm, the railroad may be able to add more service next week, Joe Calderone, vice president of customer service for LIRR, said Thursday.
"If all the work goes as planned, we're hopeful that we can improve service next week," Calderone said. He would not predict how much service could be added and when it would begin.
The LIRR has operated at reduced levels since the Oct. 29 storm, which sent 12 feet of floodwater into the tunnels and destroyed five large boxes that house components for the signal system inside the tunnel.
Amtrak, which owns and maintains the tunnels, built a temporary signal system that has restricted the LIRR's capacity to operate trains in and out of Penn Station.
During rush hours, the LIRR is running about 70 percent of its usual service, leading to crowded trains.
Amtrak is scheduled to complete repairs on the signal system inside one tunnel this weekend and make track improvements that would let its trains move faster out of the tunnels and into a nearby yard. Both projects could allow the LIRR to increase the number of trains it operates.
"We know our customers are hurting still. We know the rush-hour trains on a number of branches are still standing room only," Calderone said. "We've been working with them [Amtrak] to try to come up with creative solutions to speed things along."
Amtrak spokesman Clifford Cole said only that the work remains "on target for full service for LIRR by the Christmas holidays."
Amtrak last week accepted the LIRR's offer to have its workers join the repair work to speed up the process.
LIRR workers at a Garden City facility on Thursday demonstrated the task before them -- rebuilding from scratch one of the 20-foot-long signal cases containing hundreds of wires and other components for the tunnels' complex signal system.
Teams of 12 LIRR employees have been working 12-hour shifts, 24 hours a day, to build the case, and expect to have it complete by next week.