Today’s news:

NY Sens. ask Bush for $$$ to fix LIRR tunnels

U.S. Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) have asked the Bush administration to make available $100 million Congress set aside in December to repair tunnels that thousands of Queens rail commuters use daily.

Schumer wrote the White House that the tunnels carrying the Long Island Rail Road, Amtrak and New Jersey Transit “are a disaster waiting to happen.”

Schumer and Clinton, along with U.S. Sens. John Corzine and Robert Torricelli of New Jersey, appealed to the Bush White House to release the money as soon as possible.

Fire officials have long warned that in the event of a blaze, fighting such a fire would be difficult since there are insufficient sources of water as well as staircases too narrow for safe exit and rescue.

The escape hatches are 10 stories deep and only 24 inches wide with what fire officials contend is an inadequate ventilation system in the event of a smoky fire.

Schumer said Bush administration spokespeople had blamed what they called red tape for the delay in releasing the money for the repairs.

Nearly 750 trains carrying up to 350,000 commuters a day pass through the 16 miles of tunnels under the East River from Queens, Brooklyn and Long Island and the Hudson River from New Jersey en route to and from Penn Station. The tunnels and Penn Station are owned by Amtrak, the federal railroad passenger corporation.

The $100 million for the tunnel repairs was part of $21.5 billion President Bush pledged to New York in the aftermath of the attack on the World Trade Center.

In any case, the $100 million would only be a start. Inspector General Kenneth Mead of the U.S. Department of Transportation has estimated the cost of bringing the tunnels up to acceptable safety standards at more than $900 million.

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