In response to angry cries by commuters, Rep. Steve Israel has received assurances from Amtrak that it will speed up its repairs to two of its four East River tunnels.
The tunnels were damaged by Hurricane Sandy and have resulted in long delays and packed trains for Long Island Rail Road riders.
Tuesday morning, Amtrak President Joseph Boardman assured Israel, D-Huntington, the tunnels would be repaired by Christmas week.
"We realize the scope of this job is huge but all we're asking for is transparency from Amtrak," Israel said at a press conference Tuesday at the LIRR station in Hicksville.
"This is the busiest travel time of the year on the biggest commuter railroad in the country and we don't want Christmas chaos," Israel said.
Previously, Amtrak said the repairs could not be completed but offered few details. With the restoration of the Long Beach branch, the railroad said it was operating at about 80 percent of normal during rush hour.
That angered commuters, who wanted a more specific timetable.
“Long Island Rail Road Riders are tired of being kept in the dark by Amtrak when it comes to the East River tunnels," said Mark Epstein, chairman of the LIRR Commuter Council, a watchdog agency appointed by the governor.
In their telephone conversation Tuesday, Boardman said he would give his "personal attention" to repairing the tunnels by Christmas week, Israel said.
The flooded, salt-water-damaged tunnels have resulted in the cancellation of 26 morning rush-hour trains and 27 evening rush-hour trains to and from Penn Station, which Amtrak shares with the LIRR.
The remaining trains are often jam packed with commuters and forced to run as "locals." That means some trains previously serving as "express" must stop at each station along the various routes to New York, further angering commuters.
Epstein's group approached Israel after failing to get answers from Amtrak about the state of the damaged tunnels and a schedule for their repair, he said.
The LIRR ordinarily uses four tunnels to cross into Manhattan beneath the East River. The tunnels are owned by Amtrak. The two operational tunnels were also damaged, Epstein said, but temporary repairs were made to get the trains rolling.
The railroad has advised commuters to leave extra time for travel.