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Lawmaker calls for hearings over Amtrak’s plan to delay tunnel work

A Long Island lawmaker on Friday, Oct. 20,

A Long Island lawmaker on Friday, Oct. 20, 2017, asked the State Senate to hold hearings over Amtrak's plan to delay repairs to the East River rail tunnels. Credit: HNTB / Patrick Cashin

A Long Island lawmaker has formally asked the State Senate to convene public hearings about Amtrak’s plan to hold off on making repairs to the Sandy-damaged East River rail tunnels until as late as 2025.

Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) on Friday sent a letter to Sen. Michael Ranzenhofer (R-Amherst), chairman of the Senate Corporations, Authorities and Commissions Committee, asking for the hearings to discuss Amtrak’s plan.

Kaminsky said the plan was “troubling and may result in chronic delays and cancellations of Long Island Rail Road.”

A spokesman for Ranzenhofer could not immediately be reached for comment.

“An overhaul of these tubes is needed and questions need to be asked as to whether waiting until 2025 . . . places riders at risk and increases the chances of future breakdowns and delays,” Kaminsky wrote.

In 2014 Amtrak announced plans to repair two of the four East River tunnels that sustained significant damage in the 2012 storm, including from chemicals in saltwater that engineers have said continue to corrode the structures. At the time, Amtrak said it expected to begin the project around 2019, that it would cost about $330 million, and that it would require operating with one fewer tunnel in and out of Penn Station for two years.

On Thursday, Amtrak officials, providing Newsday with an update to the plan, said it was now estimated to cost $1 billion, would require taking a tunnel out of service for four years, and that construction would not begin until some time between 2021 and 2025.

Amtrak officials said a number of factors contributed to the later-than-expected start, including a complex design process and the desire to wait until the LIRR begins running trains to Grand Central Terminal as part of East Side Access in order to alleviate pressure on Penn. That project is not scheduled to be completed until late 2022.

LIRR officials also have previously expressed a preference to wait until East Side Access was complete before taking one of the tunnels out of service for repairs.

MTA officials said Thursday they planned to meet with representatives from Amtrak to discuss the repair plan on Friday.

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