Sen. Chuck Schumer, left, speaks about improvements to the problem-plagued...

Sen. Chuck Schumer, left, speaks about improvements to the problem-plagued Amtrak East River tunnels beside New York Sen. Charles Fuschillo during a press conference at the Long Island Rail Road station in Mineola. (Nov. 18, 2013) Credit: Barry Sloan

Sen. Charles Schumer Monday recommended State Sen. Charles Fuschillo for a vacancy on the Amtrak board, saying the 300,000 Long Island Rail Road customers who pass through the East River tunnels every weekday should have a voice inside the agency that owns and maintains them.

Schumer (D-N.Y.) formally submitted Fuschillo (R-Merrick) to fill the seat on the National Railroad Passenger Corp. board of directors -- Amtrak's governing body.

"Senator Fuschillo would be a great asset to the Amtrak board, and I'm confident he would fight for Long Island, because he always does," Schumer said at a Mineola news conference.

Members of the seven-person board are appointed by the president with input from lawmakers and the Department of Transportation. Schumer said he did not have a timetable on when Fuschillo might be formally considered for the post.

"For far too long their voices have not been heard," Fuschillo, chairman of the State Senate Transportation Committee, said, adding that, if appointed, he would make sure plans for improved East River tunnel maintenance procedures were carried out.

Schumer's recommendation is in response to calls from the Long Island Rail Road Commuter Council to have an LIRR rider looking out for commuter interests on the board.

"We want direct communication with Amtrak. If a tunnel has a problem, we want to know what the problem is and how long the delay is going to be," council chairman Mark Epstein said.

Schumer and the MTA have pushed Amtrak to improve maintenance efforts in the tunnels after a string of LIRR service disruptions, including a track condition that led to three LIRR train cancellations Friday morning.

Schumer detailed the plan he brokered with Amtrak to improve maintenance inside the tunnels, including by increasing the speed and frequency of inspections and replacing parts on a regular cycle instead of waiting for them to fail.

"It goes to the point that when you're not responsible to the commuters, but you are responsible for the tracks, there's a huge disconnect," he said.

The project will be largely funded through $80 million in federal superstorm Sandy resiliency money, and will get started immediately, Schumer said.

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