U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer and DOT Secretary Pete Buttigieg forgot to visit the East River tunnels during their recent press conference and Hudson River Tunnel tour on behalf of the proposed $11 billion Gateway Tunnel project.
There is the $11 billion basic (two new tunnels plus rehab of existing tunnels) or full build $33 billion (including new track and platform capacity) versions of Gateway.
Ongoing cancellation and combining of trains due to signal and other problems in the East River tunnels along with other locations on all nine branches of the LIRR system will continue for years to come. Amtrak will not initiate decades-overdue major repairs of the 110-plus-year-old East River tunnels until 2025 (two years after East Side Access to Grand Central Terminal begins).
This work on all four tunnels, including two that suffered significant damages from Superstorm Sandy in 2012, may not be completed until 2029. Amtrak has previously gone on record that these two tunnels will require a minimum of one year each for completion. It will require one of two tunnels damaged by Sandy being out of service at a time for one year to support this work. The other two tunnels will need similar work.
With only three of four tunnels available, there will be a reduction in Penn Station access and capacity. To preserve existing service, many LIRR rush- hour trains will be canceled or combined. Until this work is over, it will be impossible to guarantee safe and reliable on-time service to Penn Station for LIRR commuters.
Reduced East River tunnel capacity may also make it very difficult to add new services previously promised by Gov. Cuomo. This includes East Bronx Metro North New Haven line Access to Penn Station, increased Port Washington branch service to support the LaGuardia Air Train via Shea Stadium Station, new Elmont Station service to support the Islanders Belmont Arena and a 50 percent overall increase in reverse peak service after opening of East Side Access to Grand Central Terminal.
Both Amtrak and New Jersey Transit need access to the Queens Sunnyside Yards via the East River tunnels to support their own respective planned service increases. Going from four to three available East River tunnels results in a significant capacity reduction. This translates to no increase in existing or new services until work on all four East River tunnels is completed by 2029.
(Larry Penner is a transportation advocate, historian and writer who previously worked for the Federal Transit Administration Region 2 NY Office.