Amtrak looks to new options for East River tunnel rehabilitation work

RELATED TOPICS: AMTRAK | INFRASTRUCTURE | NORTHEAST | NEW YORK
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NEW YORK — Amtrak is looking for options for its New York tunnels.

During the day today, railroad officials will walk to the East River tunnels with officials from Columbia and Cornell universities, the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and other members of an expert panel. They're expected to find out if repair work could progress on the East River tunnels without completely closing them to traffic.

The same panel recently assured New York State officials that the complete shutdown of an L-train tunnel for repairs was unnecessary. A Jan. 3 announcement from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo accepting those subway line findings was impressive enough to prompt Amtrak Chairman Anthony Coscia to say it could work for Amtrak.

"It is important for us to do a thorough vetting so that we can determine now at this stage whether it’s a methodology that we could use,” Coscia said, according to the New York Daily News.

On Thursday evening, Jan. 10, Amtrak announced that Cuomo's expert panel would review the East River tunnels.

The East River tunnels are four tubes that connect New York Penn Station with Queens, and handle NJ Transit, Long Island Rail Road, and Amtrak trains. They were damaged by Hurricane Sandy in 2012, and are in need of remediation. Their sister bores in the North River tunnel connect Manhattan with New Jersey were also damaged by Hurricane Sandy.

For New York and Amtrak, the changes were abrupt.

As late as December, the MTA issued information about alternative transit arrangements through 2019 that would have been provided for the 250,000 riders affected by the shutdown. Then came the New Year and Cuomo's announcement. The expert report followed weeks of review and analysis by the faculty and deans of the Columbia and Cornell universities' engineering schools who devised methods to streamline repair work and limit train service impact. The original plan had been worked on for three years.

For Amtrak's tunnels, a 2014 HNTB report on the status of Amtrak's East and North river tunnels after Hurricane Sandy also calls for partial, then complete closures of tubes or tunnels during re-construction.

Public officials have said that partial closures for the months required would be unacceptable to the commuting public and pushed for an approximately $10 billion package that would remediate both tunnels and dig a new tunnel beneath the North River, among other things — to alleviate congestion.

Though the East River tunnels have been discussed less often than the twin bores of the North River tunnel, both were assessed together in the HNTB report, which is available online from a tunnel discussion group. Repair work to both tunnel complexes was estimated at nearly $700 million. 

An Amtrak representative did not respond to Trains questions about whether Amtrak had considered other options to repairing the North and East river tunnels or whether the railroad had built up any reserves to pay for the repair work that the HNTB report projected.

UPDATE: Complete write-through 1:40 p.m. Central time. Jan. 11, 2019.


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