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NY Lawmaker Introduces Amtrak Repair Bill

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

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New York Representative Ritchie Torres (D, NY-15) introduced bill H.R. 3002 last week, requiring that Amtrak adopt a repair-in-place method for track maintenance, rehabilitation and other purposes.

While the legislation aims to target rehabilitation projects on East River train tunnels, according to Torres and other government officials, if passed, the legislation could have a ripple effect on other projects in New York as well.

Saving Time and Money

Currently, riffs are building between the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Amtrak regarding repairs in two 1910 East River tunnels that were flooded by Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

While MTA officials insist that the tubes will need to be repaired before work on the Penn Access project can begin, Amtrak spokesman Jason Abrams argues that the East River tunnel repairs won’t need repaired prior to launching the project and will actually need to be closed at a later date so that repairs can be addressed properly.

Currently, Amtrak’s plan involves closing its wet tubes down one at a time for rehabilitation and displacement of the LIRR from one of its dry tubes but has yet to publish its scope of work—or an official timeline—for the project. The plan of action will in turn, divert many LIRR trains to Grand Central.

However, MTA insists these repairs will have to be carried out, in addition to the completion of the East Side Access project, which involves the construction of a new East River tunnel, leading up to the Penn Access work.

Enrique Cornejo, CC-BY-SA-3.0, 2.5, 2.0, 1.0, via Wikimedia Commons

New York Democrat Representative Ritchie Torres introduced bill H.R. 3002 last week, requiring that Amtrak adopt a repair-in-place method for track maintenance, rehabilitation and other purposes.

To mediate the project issues, which are ultimately impacting project timelines and overall cost, Torres claims that the repair-in-place requirement would speed up the process. The method was utilized by MTA for the rehabilitation of the L train tunnel, which also was damaged by Superstorm Sandy, and was reported to prevent a 15-month closure of the line.

In other ripple effects, the delayed improvements are also impacting MTA’s plan to construct four Bronx stations to let people ride into Penn Station and out to Westchester and Connecticut. The years-long delays are only increasing costs and preventing commuters from getting jobs.

On Friday (May 7), a state Senate hearing was slated to take place with Sen. Todd Kaminsky which looked to stop the triple mess of an East River closure, which allegedly includes:

  1. Existing LIRR routes to Penn will be drastically cut back, with schedules scrambled and commutes made hellish;
  2. Any true benefit of the $10 billion-plus East Side Access will put off for years; and
  3. Bronx service will remain a distant dream.

Besides the L train, the repair-in-place method has also been successfully carried out on New York’s F trains. Currently, Amtrak is reported to be working on minor repairs under the Hudson. London Bridge Associates has also reported that the method would work for Amtrak’s tunnels.

Additional Work Revisions

At the end of April, U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has recently received a letter from the New York State Conference of Mayors and Municipal Officials, in addition to three New York-based contractor groups, requesting that he waive the state's Scaffold Law for the $11.6 billion Hudson River Tunnel construction project.

Last year, the Hudson River rail tunnel project was reported to have climbed in cost and time, although not due to any scaffolding law issues, the price tag sits at $11.6 billion (a $275 million hike from the previous estimate of $11.3 billion), while the start date was pushed back to 2022.

An engineering report from 2014 claimed the Amtrak tunnels would require $689 million to repair the corrosion and cracking caused by Superstorm Sandy. The 57-page report, "Structural Assessment of the Amtrak Under River Tunnels in NYC Inundated by Super Storm Sandy," found that chlorides and sulfates caused, and were continuing to cause, significant damage to key tunnel components.

“We urge you to use your regulatory authority to supersede New York’s absolute liability standard. In doing so, the federal government can save hundreds of millions of dollars on the Gateway tunnel project,” the letter read. “This will ensure that federal dollars go towards the critical work of repairing the rail infrastructure of the New York City metropolitan area, rather than inflated liability insurance costs.”

The three contractor groups are the Minority & Women Contractors & Developers Association, the Associated General Contractors of New York State and the General Contractors Association of New York.

Over a hundred years old, the Scaffold Safety Law (Labor Law 240) is unique to New York in that it makes contractors and property owners 100% liable in injury lawsuits if they fail to provide adequate equipment or training. Although, over the years multiple calls to revamp the legislation have been attempted.

The bill maintains the right of any injured worker to sue, but “attempts to contain the costs of absolute liability in a fair manner by making an employee who directly contributes to his injury liable for the portion of fault assessed by a jury for his own conduct.”

For ongoing projects of the time, reports suggested that the Tappan Zee Bridge could cost approximately $200 million in insurance to cover Scaffold Law claims, while the Gateway Project's $13 billion in planned tunnels under the Hudson River could result in $180 to $300 million in added insurance costs.

Last year, the Scaffold Law Reform Coalition penned a letter to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo requesting that the state’s budget be used to scrap the law. The coalition argued that the restrictive law was costing millions of dollars in state and municipal budgets, hundreds of millions in infrastructure costs and approximately $200 million a year in education budgets across the state.

In reporting from their perspective on the mater, the NYCOSH points out that contractors only have liability for fall injuries if they do not provide the proper safety equipment or violate safety and health regulations, suggesting that companies should allow insurance providers to allow an evaluation of their records so that it can be determined if the Scaffold Law is really behind rising policy prices.

Although Buttigieg recently reported that the tunnel replacement and repair project between New York and New Jersey would be a priority for President Joe Biden's administration, he has not issued a response to the letter at this time.


Tagged categories: Government; Maintenance programs; Mass transit; NA; North America; Ongoing projects; Program/Project Management; Project Management; Public Transit; Rail; Rehabilitation/Repair; Transportation

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