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Officials: Night, weekend work might speed up repairs of East River Tunnels

Amtrak and MTA officials this week have been discussing strategies on the Sandy-damaged tunnels. They are interested in "undertaking a preliminary review" of the methods being used in the L train repairs.

Amtrak and MTA officials, encouraged by a plan to avert a complete shutdown of the L subway line for repairs, are considering a similar strategy to reduce the impact on Long Island Rail Road customers from fixes inside the Sandy-damaged East River Tunnels.

After meeting with MTA officials Thursday, Amtrak said it was interested in “undertaking a preliminary review” of the methods being used in the L train repairs to see if they could be applied to planned Amtrak construction projects, including long-delayed repairs of the East River Tunnels, which are owned and maintained by Amtrak but primarily used by the LIRR.

“We’re thrilled that Amtrak, as owner of the tunnels that LIRR customers rely upon every day, is exploring the innovative ideas that promise to significantly reduce the service impact for L subway customers while their East River tunnel is repaired," LIRR President Phillip Eng said in a statement Friday. 

 With a 15-month shutdown of the L train looming for its own Sandy tunnel repairs, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo last week announced that an expert team of engineers had come up with a way to avert a full closure of the subway line, which connects Brooklyn to Manhattan. The method would allow most of the work to be conducted on nights and weekends.

Similar to the L subway line, much of the damage inside the East River was sustained by concrete “bench walls,” which run along the sides of the tunnels, housing electric and signal cables and also providing a walkway for workers and passengers in an emergency.

Because making the repairs would require the LIRR to operate without one of four East River Tunnels linking Long Island to Penn Station for up to four years, Amtrak and MTA officials have favored putting off the project until after the completion of East Side Access, which would give the LIRR a second set of tunnels to Manhattan. Amtrak officials have said that could delay the project until 2025.

Amtrak and MTA officials would not say Friday whether using the same approach as the L train project could speed up when the East River Tunnels project could begin.

Amtrak and MTA officials said in a statement that their Thursday meeting “was informative and productive for both parties.” Representatives from both agencies and the L train engineering team, which included deans and faculty from Columbia University and Cornell University engineering schools, planned to tour the East River Tunnels on Friday “to continue this important discussion,” Amtrak and the MTA said.

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