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Meeting Minutes Apr 19, 2012


A meeting of the Metro-North Railroad Commuter Council (MNRCC) was convened at 4:30 pm on April 19, 2012 in the 5th floor Board room, MTA Headquarters, 347 Madison Avenue, New York City.

The following members were present:

David Buchwald                  Neal Zuckerman

The following members were absent:
James F. Blair                       Frances T. Corcoran
Richard Cataggio                 Randy Glucksman
Rhonda Herman

In addition, the following persons were present:
William Henderson-PCAC Executive Director
Jan Wells-PCAC Associate Director
Ellyn Shannon-PCAC Transportation Planner
Angela Bellisio-PCAC Consultant
Susie Sigel-Bryant Park Corporation
Barry Adler-Concerned Citizen

Approval of Agenda and Minutes
The agenda for the April 19, 2012 meeting was accepted.  As there was not a quorum present, the approval of the minutes of the January 19, 2012 meeting was deferred to the next meeting.

Chair’s Report

The Chair’s report had been previously distributed to the Council.  No comments were made on the report.

Introduction of Jeffrey Olwell, MNR Manager – Market Research, to discuss Metro-North’s Market research efforts Mr. Olwell started his presentation by commenting on Metro-North’s annual Customer Satisfaction Survey and noted that it is Metro-North’s largest market research project.  He said that he compiles the results of the survey for presentation, but also does more detailed analysis to get behind some of the answers.  For example, he noticed satisfaction with the M7 lavatories going down in recent surveys and as a result is convening focus groups on them next month.

Neal Zuckerman asked about the process for conducting the Customer Satisfaction Survey.  Mr. Olwell said that management volunteers generally conduct the surveys on weekday trains, and temporary employees do the surveys on weekend trains.  The survey is conducted on a mix of train lines and segments and are physically handed out to the passengers, rather than distributed as a seat drop.  Mr. Zuckerman asked when the survey is conducted.  Mr. Olwell responded that the survey generally is conducted in June and that it is coordinated with the LIRR.  He said that, aside from the standard questions on service elements, the survey includes special topics vary from year to year.

Mr. Zuckerman asked if data from the Customer Satisfaction Survey are available to riders.   Mr. Olwell responded that there is a PowerPoint document posted online after the survey results are compiled and articles on the results are also included in the monthly seat drops that are produced for riders.  He said that the focus groups dealing with lavatories will held between April 30 and May 4, with the first four days’ groups held on train cars to discuss the M7 lavatories and the last day’s groups held in Grand Central Terminal to discuss the Terminal’s lavatory facilities.

Mr. Olwell said that he has done considerable work on quiet cars. A lot of work was done before implementation, and after implementation there were surveys to gather customer feedback.  The survey for the Hudson and Harlem line pilot program had 4,400 responses.  There will also be quiet car questions in the upcoming Customer Satisfaction Survey.

Among the findings of the survey was that people who do not ride in the quiet car are just as satisfied with the program as those who do.  Mr. Olwell said that they have also looked at ridership levels in quiet cars and the adjoining cars.  Because the quiet cars have proved to be popular, Metro-North may look at having more than one quiet car in a train.

Ellyn Shannon asked whether Metro-North is required to have the same customer satisfaction survey instrument as the LIRR.  Mr. Olwell replied that originally the MTA wanted the railroads to distribute the same survey instrument, but both railroads said that this would not work and there remain some differences between the two forms.

Mr. Zuckerman stated that it seems like there should be digital methods of getting customer feedback more than once a year.  He said that the Council would like Metro-North to maintain its customer friendly orientation by doing more surveying.

Mr. Olwell said that he is in the process of putting together an online panel for spur of the moment questions.  He said that the railroad used to do quarterly surveys, but budget restrictions make this impossible.  Mr. Zuckerman said that he likes quarterly surveys because it allows you to see if a particular result is an aberration or truly reflects riders’ opinions.

Mr. Buchwald said that Metro-North could be benefited by using the Council as a focus group for some questions and that he is sure that the members would be happy to participate.  Mr. Olwell thanked the Council for this offer.

Jan Wells asked whether Metro-North had considered internet surveys.  Mr. Olwell said that in the past there was some resistance to online surveys.  He said that the MTA had done its first survey online by collecting emails and contacting riders and that the topic of this survey was communication and technology.  This survey was used for NYC Transit and its results are still being compiled, but 900 respondents were willing to complete a 20 minute survey.

Ellyn Shannon asked whether the Metro-North market research department does internal surveys of employees.  Mr. Olwell replied that there are surveys done, but they are conducted by the human resources department.

Mr. Olwell said that in the coming week they would be monitoring quiet cars and taking counts of riders on the quiet cars and adjoining cars.  A selection of trains, rather than all of them, will be counted.

Mr. Olwell said that market research has conducted another project involving focus groups to gather opinions related to the Train Time program.  For this project both Train Time users and smartphone users who do not use Train Time were recruited.  While the results have not yet been compiled, Mr. Olwell said that they received some interesting reactions.

Mr. Olwell said that market research will provide a lot of input for the M-9 cars.  The approach will be to ask riders what they like or dislike about M-7 and M-8 cars, since the M-9 cars are expected to be based on this equipment.  The purpose of the research is to provide feedback to the cars’ designer.

Mr. Buchwald asked whether Metro-North surveys non-customers.  He noted that there are lots of perceptions and impacts in the community that may not involve those who ride the trains and it may be useful to have research efforts that address these people.  Mr. Olwell responded that in the past Metro-North conducted a region – wide survey of all people who travel to Manhattan and also did a market share study, but these were discontinued due to budget restrictions.

Barry Adler asked whether Metro-North has considered using its website to conduct surveys.  He said that this would be particularly useful for timetable design.  Mr. Olwell said that Metro-North is trying to get away from printed timetables.

Mr. Buchwald said that he knows that Assemblyman Lattimer conducts a survey of riders and asked whether Mr. Olwell has received these data.  Mr. Olwell said that he has not heard of this survey.

Introduction of Randall Fleischer, MNR Senior Director, Business Development, Facilities, and Marketing to discuss the Grand Central Terminal Centennial celebrationA copy of Mr. Fleischer’s presentation is on file in the PCAC office.

Mr. Fleischer introduced himself and said that he is the co-executive lead person on the Grand Central Terminal Centennial celebration. He noted that February 21, 2013 is the 100th anniversary of the Terminal’s opening and that there is a one year celebration leading up to the anniversary.  The Chair of the 35 member centennial committee is Peter Stangl, while Caroline Kennedy has agreed to serve as an Honorary Chair.  MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota will chair an honorary committee of public officials.

The centennial celebration will emphasize four themes:
1. The rededication of the terminal and a celebration tied to the Transit Museum exhibition in Vanderbilt Hall;
2. Creating a legacy through the revitalization of the Terminal’s 42nd Street entrance;
3. A parade of historic trains
4. Creating alliances with the New York Public Library, the Morgan Library and Museum, and other local cultural institutions to involve them in the celebration.

Mr. Fleischer said that the sponsorships for the parade of historic trains will total in excess of one million dollars.   The event will use four tracks in Grand Central Terminal.  As a part of the celebration, the US Postal Service will recognize the centennial through the issuance of a commemorative stamp.

Mr. Fleischer is managing the restoration of the 89 East 42nd Street entrance to the terminal.  This is an element of the Terminal that was not renovated when the facility was restored in the late 1990’s, and this work is now underway as a formal Metro-North project.  There is also a plan to reposition Vanderbilt Hall, as the public experience that it offers is inconsistent.  There are high quality events, such as the Holiday Fair, interspersed with commercial activities, such as the taste testing of peanut butter, conducted in the space and this leads to a mixed public perception of the facility.

Mr. Fleischer said that among the ideas that are being considered at Vanderbilt Hall is the use of a technology platform that incorporates multimedia screens to be used by the tenant for special events and used by Metro-North when no tenant is in the space.  The Railroad is funding a 30 percent design of the space.  There is currently a competition of 12 firms for the right to design the space and proposals were received for the competition on April 13.

Also included in the Vanderbilt Hall space will be a permanent café that will take up 20 percent of the room and will face on the shuttle passageway.  In addition the NYC Department of Transportation is planning to close the street at Pershing Square and create a plaza across 42nd Street from the Terminal.

Mr. Fleischer said that the process of seeking funding is ongoing and that the effort has retained a sponsor agent, which has had some success in recruiting firms to support the effort.  These sponsors will be announced shortly.  Another important part of the effort will be engaging Metro-North employees to be part of the celebration.

The 2013 National Train day will incorporate the parade of trains into its program.

Mr. Zuckerman asked the size of the portion of the budget that is not supported by sponsors.  Mr. Fleischer responded that this spending is very limited and amounts to only seed money to get the effort underway.

Mr. Buchwald asked about the means that will be used to interact with riders.  Mr. Fleischer replied that the effort has engaged the J. Walter Thompson firm, which is working pro bono, to survey people’s impressions of the Grand Central Terminal and what their expectations are for the centennial celebration.  The preliminary results show that 73 percent of visitors to the Terminal feel that it exceeds their expectations, so the effort is starting with positive perception.  To build on this perception marketing will be done, including a robust program with social media and new media elements.  He said that the MTA marketing department is working on a centennial app for portable electronic devices.

Jan Wells asked what the Council can do to further the celebration.  Mr. Fleischer responded that the Council’s role will depend on what it wants to do and that there are a number of possibilities.

Mr. Buchwald said that the element that is missing from what he has seen is a  reference to Metro-North as the nation’s top railroad, and that this should be included, as it is something in which the Railroad and its riders can take pride.


The meeting was adjourned at 5:40 pm.

Respectfully Submitted,

William Henderson
Executive Director

Metro-North Railroad Commuter Council
Chair’s Report
April 19, 2012


I’d like to start by congratulating Metro-North and all of those who are involved in its operations for the Railroad’s impressive performance in the first quarter of 2012. In terms of on-time performance, the last three months represent Metro-North’s best quarter ever.  It’s true that the unseasonably warm weather that we had played a role in this success, but the on-time performance numbers that Metro-North logged between January and March of 2012 clearly confirm Metro-North’s standing in the first rank of railroads.

To cite a few of the statistics, Metro-North’s overall on-time performance for the first quarter was 98.8 percent.  To put that in perspective, if a rider made a round trip every weekday for two months, on average he or she would only arrive late on one trip in one direction during those two months.  On four days in the first quarter of 2012, every East of Hudson train ran on time, and on only one day did on-time performance dip below 95 percent, a figure which is an aspiration for many other commuter railroads.  Former MNR President Peter Cannito often remarked that when asked whether Metro-North could meet European railway standards, he would respond that Metro-North is competitive with the best in the world.  These performance statistics back up his assessment.

On March 21, Jim Blair, Randy Glucksman, and Bill Henderson had an opportunity to hear how some of the groundwork for this impressive performance was laid.  In celebration of Metro-North being the first American railroad to win the International Brunel Award for Design Excellence, the MTA held an event in Vanderbilt Hall.  Participating in the event were all of those who had served as Metro-North President as well as the current president, Howard Permut, who each highlighted elements that contribute to the Railroad’s ongoing success.  Members were previously sent a list of Metro-North milestones that was given to those attending the event.

On April 2, Metro-North expanded and made permanent its quiet car program, Quiet Calmmute, with the result that all inbound AM and outbound PM peak trains on the Hudson, Harlem and New Haven Lines will have a quiet car. The MNRCC has supported this program, and from all indications the bulk of riders support it as well.  According to the Railroad’s surveys, 83 percent of passengers said they support the quiet cars and there have been few problems with riders failing to comply with the program.

We’re in the process of planning a President’s Forum for June, when we do not have a regular meeting.  The President’s Forums are always good opportunities to hear from both Metro-North management and Metro-North riders.  A number of issues and suggestions raised at the President’s Forums over the years have been translated into service improvements on the Railroad.  We will pass along more information as these plans are finalized.

MNRCC Board Report
April 19, 2012

As was noted in the Chair’s report, I attended the program in Vanderbilt Hall on March 21 honoring Metro-North for winning the Brunel award.  I want to highlight one of the points raised by Howard Permut during his remarks at the event.  He pointed out that a great deal of the credit for Metro-North’s success was that in 1983 when the Railroad was founded, they had established a plan of action for bringing back a quality operation to the riders.  While there were problems, particularly in the early years, that had to be dealt with on a daily basis, the long term vision that was established in Metro-North’s planning process always guided the direction that the railroad took and gave focus to the efforts of personnel throughout the organization.  As time passed, more and more of the vision was realized and Metro-North won back the trust and loyalty of commuters, and the improvements to the Railroad’s infrastructure became widely recognized.  This process has led to Metro-North being awarded the International Brunel Jury Prize in 2011, but the foundation of all of this was the initial vision of excellence and the steady implementation of the plan to achieve it.

At the April Metro-North Committee meeting, MNR Staff is to present 2011 operating financial results, which are being distributed to Council members today.  Metro-North’s finances from operations in 2011 were generally favorable to the November final estimates.  The net operating deficit was $620.2 million, $37.6 million lower than projected, resulting from higher than expected revenues and lower than expected costs.   Higher than projected ridership, in spite of weather-related service disruptions, was responsible for much of the additional revenue, and other operating revenue, such as income from Grand Central Terminal operations, outpaced projections by $2.6 million at $47.8 million.  In sum, revenues exceeded the 2011 adopted budget by $9.3 million.  Operating costs for 2011 were $62 million lower than the adopted budget.  The lower costs were mainly due to non-labor costs, much of which was in non-cash expenses.  As a result, Metro-North’s net cash deficit was slightly higher than the final estimate.

Combined 2011 ridership for East and West of Hudson rail operations totaled 82 million rides, 0.3 percent higher than projected and 1.4 percent more than 2010.  Ridership growth took place in both commutation and non-commutation categories and across all lines, except for the Port Jervis Line, which was severely impacted by Tropical Storm Irene. East of Hudson ridership was .4 percent above the adopted budget, with the largest growth on the New Haven Line at 2.7 percent, followed by the Hudson Line at 0.9 percent and the Harlem Line at 0.7 percent.  West of Hudson ridership was 11.2 percent lower than budgeted, with a ridership decrease of 17.2 percent on the Port Jervis line and an increase of 2.9 percent on the Pascack Valley line.  The greatest growth was in travel between intermediate stations, which rose 3 percent, and weekday off-peak travel, which rose 2 percent.  Commutation to Manhattan, reverse commutation, and weekend travel all increased by 1 percent.

As noted in the Chair’s report, the quarter that ended March 31 marked Metro-North’s best quarterly operational performance ever.  March continued this strong showing, with overall East of Hudson on-time performance standing at 98.8 percent, equal to the record breaking first quarter number.  Performance was consistently high across all lines, with the Harlem, Hudson, and New Haven Lines turning in 99.2, 98.8, and 98.6 percent on-time performance, respectively.  The Railroad’s performance was particularly strong in the PM peak periods, where on-time performance ran above 99 percent on all three lines.

At 95.0 percent, West of Hudson March on-time performance dipped somewhat from the numbers turned in in the first two months,  Pascack Valley trains were on time in 96.0 percent of trips in March, while on the Port Jervis Line on-time performance was 93.6 percent.  None of these figures met Metro-North’s goals.  Despite the lower performance in March, on-time performance for the first quarter was above goal overall and for both the Pascack Valley and Port Jervis lines, with showings of 97.0 percent, 97.9 percent, and 95.8 percent respectively.

Mean distance between failure (MDBF) statistics for February exceeded goals for all classes of equipment, with the exception of the recently acquired BL-20 locomotives.  For the fleet as a whole, mean distance between failures stood at 246,146 miles, far surpassing the 135,000 mile overall goal.  The BL-20 locomotives have had some persistent problems, and in February they logged only 7,223 miles between failures, although their 12 month rolling average MDBF at 12,150 miles exceeds the 12,000 mile goal for this equipment.

February total revenues were $1.6 million, or 3.7 percent, above budget, but year to date revenue through February lagged the budget by $4.4 million, or 3.4 percent.  While farebox revenue is performing well, at $3.6 million above budget, and other operating revenue is $1 million over budget due to positive performance at Grand Central Terminal, timing differences in capital work and reimbursements are causing the revenues to come in below budget.

Cash operating expenses for the month of February were $7.8 million, or 9 percent below budget, continuing the trend for the year in which expenses were tracking 9.2 percent lower than budget.  The lower figures are primarily due to lower labor costs and timing in non-labor expenses for materials, contract service costs, and traction power.

As a result of better than expected revenues and expenses, Metro-North’s net cash deficit through February was $19.9 million below budget.

Total ridership in February was strong at 6.4 million riders, up 5.1 percent over 2011.  Year to date ridership was 12.9 million, a 5 percent increase over 2011. Commutation ridership rose 3.2 percent over February 2011 and non-commutation Ridership increased 8.0 percent.  East of Hudson ridership grew by 5.4 percent, but West of Hudson ridership declined 9.6 percent from February 2011, and these levels were 4.2 percent above and 1.2 percent below budget, respectively.

February ridership on the Harlem line grew 2.2 percent and on the Hudson Line grew 1.3 percent over 2011, while New Haven line ridership increased more strongly by 6.9 percent.  Pascack Valley Line ridership increased robustly at 9.4 percent over February 2011, but Port Jervis Line ridership continues to feel the effects of Tropical Storm Irene and was down 6.6 percent.  Connecting service ridership in February grew 2.6 percent over 2011, but this was a product of strong ridership growth, largely related to unseasonably warm weather and minimal icing on the Hudson, on the Haverstraw-Ossining and Newburgh-Beacon Ferries, which grew by 20 and 62 percent respectively, and an 8.9 percent decline in Hudson Rail Link ridership.

Safety statistics for the year through February reflect the impact of unseasonably warm weather, compared with last year’s winter storms.  Total employee injuries were down 35.2 percent from 2011, and customer injuries were down 8.4 percent over the levels for the first two months of 2011.  Contractor injuries showed even greater improvement, declining by 77.8 percent.

There were no Metro-North procurements of particular consequence in this month’s Board cycle.  There will be a single Metro-North procurement, for the maintenance of support vehicles, together with two joint procurements managed by the LIRR for replacement parts used in track maintenance equipment and maintenance of currency sorters, considered this month.

Positive Train Control
Since the passage of federal legislation mandating the installation of positive train control (PTC) in 2008, installing this system on the MTA’s commuter railroads and how it will be paid for has been a frequent issue discussed at the Board level.  Now as we are moving toward the statutory deadline for installing the system at the end of 2015, much work remains to implement the technology to meet this unfunded mandate.

It seems likely that Congress will pass provisions that allow regulators to grant extensions of the deadline, but the fact remains that PTC will be extremely expensive, costing the MTA an estimated $750 million to install, with maintenance and operation expenses to follow.  To put this figure in perspective, the entire current Metro-North five year capital program is only $1.544 billion, about twice the cost of PTC.  Installing positive train control would almost certainly crowd out other vital capital investments, as well as putting pressure on the fare in the long term.  The system would provide only a marginal improvement in safety, as cab signaling that is already in place on the MTA’s commuter railroads reduces train speeds to 15 miles per hour in the event of a signal violation.

The PCAC Executive Committee is currently examining options that might reduce the burden of this mandate on the MTA and ultimately on the riders and ways that we could influence the process.  Change will take more voices than ours, but the stakes are high and we owe it to the riders to investigate whether relief from this requirement may be possible.