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Amtrak gets $76M to fix Penn Station RR tunnels

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The U.S. Department of Transportation has earmarked more than $76 million for Amtrak to help repair the 90-year-old, deteriorating Penn Station tunnels through which thousands of Queens commuters pass daily on the Long Island Rail Road.

Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta said the grant of $76,748,000 would help pay for fire and safety improvements, including structural rehabilitation, installation of modernized tunnel ventilation and communication systems. He said it would also cover costs of better emergency escape hatches in the tunnels.

“These enhancements will help ensure the reliability and integrity of these crucial rail gateways to and from the greater New York City area,” said Federal Railroad Administrator Allan Rutter. “I am pleased that FRA is able to help Amtrak in achieving these significant safety improvements.”

Gov. George Pataki called the cash infusion “an essential step in addressing the pressing fire and life-safety issues in the aging tunnels leading to and from Penn Station. Although these tunnels are owned by Amtrak, over 300,000 New York and New Jersey commuters use them each day.”

The grant was made available by a $100 million appropriation contained in the Department of Defense and Emergency Supplemental Appropriations for Recovery From and Response to Terrorist Acts on the United States Act. Amtrak will get $23.25 million later.

The money certainly will help, although some federal officials and members of Congress have suggested fixing up the four tunnels beneath the East River and two under the Hudson River could take more than 10 years and cost as much as $980 million.

Since the spiral stairway escape hatches from the tunnels are 10 stories deep and only 24 inches wide, firefighting officials say evacuation of passengers would not permit firefighters and rescue workers to enter at the same time.

Firefighters have long complained that the tunnels, which are more than a half mile apart, need better ventilation, including the technology to pump in fresh air to replace smoke, installation of water sources known as stand pipes throughout the tunnels for fighting fire and modern communication facilities. All the tunnels are slightly more than 2 1/4 miles long and are used by Amtrak, the Long Island Rail Road and New Jersey Transit trains.

Thousands of commuters from Queens, Brooklyn and Long Island take commuter trains through the tunnels daily as do more thousands from New Jersey.

Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 136.

Posted 7:07 pm, October 10, 2011
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