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Cuomo: Easier LIRR morning commute ahead

Communters wait LIRR at the Ronkonkoma LIRR station.

Communters wait LIRR at the Ronkonkoma LIRR station. (Nov. 5, 2012) Credit: James Carbone

The Long Island Rail Road will return to 83 percent service in time for today's morning commute, but officials warned full service may not be restored until next year.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced Sunday that, with Amtrak completing temporary repairs in two East River tunnels damaged during superstorm Sandy two weeks ago, the LIRR would be able to operate most of its usual trains.

The agency will operate almost all of its daily trains on 10 of its 11 branches and about 70 percent of its rush-hour trains. The Long Beach branch remains closed. All last week the railroad ran at about 45 percent of its service.

"We are continuing step by step to bring back our public transportation system after the tremendous damage caused by Hurricane Sandy, and the restoration of most of the LIRR service will help alleviate inconveniences caused by this catastrophic storm," Cuomo said in a statement. "I commend the hard work done by the MTA to get the regional transportation system running again so New Yorkers can get back to normal life as quickly as possible."

Although officials have not said when they expect the LIRR to resume all of its service, Cuomo's office said that the salt-water-damaged signal system inside the tunnels is not likely to be repaired until the end of the year. The tunnels are using a temporary signal system until full repair and replacement work is complete.

The four East River rail tunnels are owned and maintained by Amtrak, but primarily used by the LIRR.

"We know this has been a very difficult two weeks for our customers, for all of Long Island and for the entire region," LIRR president Helena Williams said in a statement. "We are as eager as our customers to return to normal service as part of the ongoing recovery process."

The LIRR's schedule will be similar to that of a normal weekday, but in the morning, 19 of the LIRR's 143 morning rush-hour trains will be canceled or diverted to another terminal. In the evening rush hour, of the 127 trains the LIRR operates, 23 are to be canceled.

On the Long Beach branch, which suffered the worst damage of all the LIRR's lines, buses are replacing trains between the barrier island city's terminal and Lynbrook.

The LIRR returns to its usual fare system Monday. The railroad had been charging off-peak fares since the storm and waiving onboard transaction fees.

The restoration of most LIRR service follows a difficult two weeks for commuters. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority shut down on Oct. 28 in advance of Sandy, which pushed more than 140 trees onto LIRR tracks, knocked out power to most of the rail system, and flooded tracks and other facilities.

The agency restored very limited service on its Port Washington and Ronkonkoma lines three days after the storm, and continued incrementally restoring its system through the past week.

With far fewer trains running than usual, riders endured severe crowding in cars and on station platforms.

The situation worsened after the Wednesday nor'easter again walloped the LIRR, disabling its signal system, dropping more trees on tracks, and causing the railroad to suspend service during the height of its evening commute.

The MTA also announced yesterday that the Gov. Hugh L. Carey Tunnel, formerly known as the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, will open for limited rush-hour bus service this morning.

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