Some $86 million of Superstorm Sandy recovery funds will be used to improve infrastructure on Amtrak's four East River tunnels that carry more than 300,000 Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) commuters a day to and from Penn Station.

The aging single-track tunnels, which Amtrak owns and maintains, have been the source of numerous LIRR delays due to track issues, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement and at a broadcast press conference held at the Mineola LIRR station today, Nov. 18. He says he pushed Amtrak to develop the tunnel improvement program following an LIRR service disruption last August caused by a third rail malfunction in one of the tunnels.

"We've provided Amtrak with $86 million in Sandy relief funds and much of the money for that [improvement program] work will come from that pot," Schumer says.

The planned program includes replacing old track segments that are connected by steel plates and prone to failure. It also includes implementing a new policy to prioritize upgrading the aging infrastructure, increase the frequency of tunnel inspections, and new software to detect, predict and respond quicker to problems.

Work will be carried out in three phases with the first phase targeting high-use assets approaching the end of their useful life. Some of these assets are already identified and will be replaced in the next 18 to 24 months, Schumer says.

Phase two will tackle assets that carry less rail traffic than those in phase one. The phase two completion target ranges from August 2017 to May 2019.

Phase three involves ongoing infrastructure management using asset management software to capture asset life data, inspection results and corrective work orders to better predict and avoid failure, Schumer adds.

The announcement follows news of a $37.5-million plan for five storm mitigation and resiliency projects at LaGuardia Airport, which took on about 100 million gallons of seawater from Sandy last year. The plan includes installing flood barrier berms; building concrete floodwalls and two gravity drains; replacing generators with larger, more efficient emergency back-up units; and rehabilitating the monitoring and control system for the airport's power distribution grid.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who announced the plan Nov. 17, said that $28.1 million of the total cost is expected to be covered by federal funds through a Port Authority of New York and New Jersey disaster recovery and mitigation award. He adds that these projects are consistent with recommendations in his NYS 2100 Commission Report that includes calls for improving protection of critical airport infrastructure.