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Who's responsible for the trouble on the tracks?

June 19, 2013 3:26:31 PM PDT
The Long Island Railroad is back on track, but it's not been a good week for the railroad or its passengers.

Monday's derailment of a train is just one of several problems at east river tunnel in the past 18 months.

It's hardly good news for the nation's busiest commuter railroad, which last year served 82 million riders.

Our investigation has found that on average, Long Island Railroad commuters must grapple with major delays every 5 months due to problems in Amtrak's East River Tunnels.

We've also discovered that Congress seems poised to cut the very funding that could stop the derailments and delays.

In February 2011, an Amtrak train derailed blocking one of the East River tunnels and causing big delays for Long Island Rail Road commuters. Then in April 2011, broken tracks in one of the tunnels causes rush hour train cancellations. A month later, another Amtrak derailment in the East River tunnel creating commuter havoc.

Again, on the eve of last Thanksgiving, switching problems in one of the tunnels left tens of thousands of people stranded on one of the busiest travel days of the year.

On Monday, another derailment, this time a LIRR train resulting in two days of delays.

If bad track is found to be the cause of this latest incident, which seems likely, it will make for 5 breakdowns in less than 2-and-a-half years due to track or signal-switching problems, all maintained by AMTRAK.

"We need accountability" Congressman Steve Israel said.

Rep. Israel, of Long Island, is calling on the President of Amtrak to investigate the track problems and fix them, but he acknowledges a lack of bi-partisan support in Congress has led to under-funding of Amtrak.

"We need people in Congress willing to make the investment and chose the right priorities to get one of my constituents from Smithtown to Penn Station without derailing," he said.

Amtrak tells us they are half-way done with a $200 million dollar project to replace the tracks in all four of the East River Tunnels. That should help reduce derailments, but as a recent report shows AMTRAK still needs "to replace (the tunnels') aging signal system which is prone to failure and delays."

On Wednesday, a House sub-committee proposed cutting Amtrak's budget by 27-percent.

"That's going to cripple the system and have significant impact on the state of good repair on repair and maintenance, on maintenance workers that deal with tracks and signals and such," Veronica Vanterpool, Tri-State Transportation Campaign, said.

Late Wednesday afternoon, Amtrak told us that the derailment on Monday was caused by a track problem.

A spokesman says a protector guard cover on a track switch had become dislodged allowing the wheels of the train to ride over it causing the derailment.

We should note these are the kinds of maintenance issues that will only increase if Congress cuts Amtrak's budget for a third year in a row.

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