Amtrak issues RFQ for East River Tunnel rehab project

April 17, 2023
The project will rehabilitate the 114-year-old tunnel that also experienced damage during Superstorm Sandy to ensure service continues for Amtrak, NJ Transit and LIRR.

Amtrak has issued a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) for construction services associated with the East River Tunnel Rehabilitation Project. The project will see the renewal of two of the four tubes in the tunnel, which was built in 1909 and experienced damage from Superstorm Sandy.

The tunnel is used by Amtrak, New Jersey Transit (NJ Transit) and Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) trains. Amtrak says the work will modernize the tunnel infrastructure, improving safety, service capacity, reliability and security and bring the systems to a state of good repair. Preparatory work is already underway in Sunnyside Yard, with major construction starting in early 2024 and continuing through 2027.

“This project will renew the East River Tunnel for another century, connect local residents to jobs and economic opportunities and deliver a modern, more reliable and improved travel experience,” said Amtrak CEO Stephen Gardner.

The East River Tunnel provides a vital regional rail connection and, pre pandemic, served approximately 300,000 passengers every day. In addition to the tunnel’s age, Superstorm Sandy’s flood waters left corrosive minerals behind.

The project will rehabilitate tubes 1 and 2, which are each 13,000 feet long, by demolishing the tubes down to their concrete liners. New bench walls will be built, along with communication systems and modern electrical and signaling conduit. Additionally, the work will improve the safety and security of the tubes.

“The East River Tunnel is vital to the Northeast Corridor and commuters and riders who depend on this infrastructure deserve a modern and improved tunnel,” said Federal Railroad Administrator Amit Bose.

The Federal Railroad Administration awarded Amtrak a grant of up to $10.7 million from the FY 2021 Federal-State Partnership for State of Good Repair Program for the East River Tunnel Rehabilitation Enabling Components Project. Amtrak says the funding will ensure traction power is maintained in each of the tunnel lines while rehabilitation activities are underway. The project is eligible for the FY 2022-2023 Federal-State Partnership for Intercity Passenger Rail Program (FSP-NEC Program), and Amtrak says an application has been submitted. A decision on this round of grants is expected in the fall of 2023.

Also related to funding was an agreement brokered by U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) in December 2021 between the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and Amtrak. The agreement called for Amtrak to commit $500 million to MTA’s Penn Station Access program while MTA committed $432 million to the East River Tunnel Rehabilitation Project. If Amtrak is successful in securing a grant that could cover 80-percent of the project costs through the FSP-NEC Program, MTA and NJ Transit would cover the 20 percent local share.

“We are delighted to see this vital infrastructure work moving forward,” said LIRR Interim President and Metro-North Railroad President Catherine Rinaldi. “With the opening of Grand Central Madison, current LIRR schedules are written to ensure the East River Tunnel project can proceed without major LIRR schedule adjustments. Once completed, this project will provide a more resilient tunnel that will allow hundreds of LIRR trains to pass through per day, and in the future, Metro-North service.”

NJ Transit President and CEO Kevin S. Corbett added, “The rehabilitation of the tunnel will not only improve the safety and reliability of our service, but also enhance mobility and connectivity for all our customers across the region.”

About the Author

Mischa Wanek-Libman | Group Editorial Director

Mischa Wanek-Libman serves as editor in chief of Mass Transit magazine and group editorial director of the Infrastructure and Aviation Group at Endeavor Business Media. She is responsible for developing and maintaining the editorial direction of the group and is based in the western suburbs of Chicago.

Wanek-Libman has spent more than 20 years covering transportation issues including construction projects and engineering challenges for various commuter railroads and transit agencies. She has been recognized for editorial excellence through her individual work, as well as for collaborative content. 

She is an active member of the American Public Transportation Association's Marketing and Communications Committee and serves as a Board Observer on the National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association (NRC) Board of Directors.  

She is a graduate of Drake University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism and Mass Communication with a major in magazine journalism and a minor in business management.