LONG ISLAND RAIL ROAD COMMUTER’S COUNCIL
MINUTES OF APRIL 5, 2012
A meeting of the Long Island Rail Road Commuter Council (LIRRCC) was convened at 4:30 p.m. on April 5, 2012 at the LIRR East Side Access Readiness conference room at 450 7th Avenue, New York City.
The following members were present:
Owen Costello Maureen Michaels
Ira Greenberg Bryan Peranzo
Matthew Kessler Larry Rubinstein
The following members were absent:
Gerard Bringmann Sheila Carpenter
In addition, the following persons were present:
William Henderson-PCAC Executive Director
Jan Wells-PCAC Associate Director
Approval of Agenda and Minutes
The agenda for the April 5, 2012 meeting was approved. The minutes of the February 9, 2012 meeting were approved.
Matthew Kessler noted that the Chair’s report had been distributed by email and asked whether there were any questions or comments about it. Maureen Michaels questioned how different from that of his predecessors the approach of new LIRR Senior Vice President – Operations Michael Gelormino would be. Bill Henderson said that, in the on time performance briefing that Mr. Gelormino gave to the Council on March 29, he indicated that he was prepared to look at performance statistics in new ways and to do analysis directed toward identifying problems that can be remedied.
Ms. Michaels said that trains originating on the Port Jefferson branch make many stops and that Ronkonkoma trains make fewer. She said that trains that originate in Suffolk County should not make stops in Queens, as this only prolongs an already long trip. She said that the crowding on some trains makes stops on closer in stations difficult, as there is little room for additional passengers.
Bill Henderson and Ira Greenberg discussed the issues that had been raised at the March MTA Board and Long Island/Metro-North Committee meetings. Mr. Henderson said that at the beginning of the Long Island/Metro-North Committee meeting there had been an Executive Session and that its topic was the recent fatality involving the escalator at the Lindenhurst Station.
Mr. Henderson said that Helena Williams had spoken about the ridership increases in recent months and that she had spent some time discussing the Rail Road’s on time performance. While the overall performance was good, with the February performance being the best February every recorded, there are some branches with persistent on time problems, chief among them the Port Jefferson Branch. Ms. Williams said that she believes that the overall on-time performance goal is sound, but that there is an ongoing review of on time performance goals and its results would be discussed at the next month’s committee meeting. She noted that the delays that are recorded on the Port Jefferson branch generally are caused by problems farther west, with Harold interlocking a major source of delays, but that due to curves and hills on the branch engineers are unable to make up time.
Mr. Greenberg noted that the LIRR would be installing additional safety sensors on 12 escalators to provide a warning about problems with these units. This is expected to improve the response to problems and enhance safety. He also said that Ms. Williams had reported that rider frustration with fare policies have led to more confrontations when riders discovered that their tickets were no longer valid and that there had been 23 summonses issued for refusal to pay fares.
Mr. Henderson reported that he had met with Mitchell York, the CEO of CooCoo and that the firm is working to develop a paperless ticketing system for commuter railroads. He also summarized the subjects of emails that the office had received, including Ronkonkoma station area crosswalks, station litter, an inquiry about LIRR procurement contacts, bicycle parking, track assignments, ticket validity and refund policies, a request for on-line ticketing, and a request for enclosed station house facilities. Maureen Michaels said that she has observed that platform shelters are filthy and have not been power washed lately. She said some of them are covered by both graffiti and dirt.
Ms. Michaels said that the LIRR appeared to be dealing with the issue of incorrect clocks. She said that they had removed a clock a Cold Spring Harbor that showed the incorrect time. It was noted that the clock at Penn Station’s 34th Street entrance was reset to the correct time, but had to be reset later.
Ms. Michaels raised the issue of the condition of the Hicksville platform. Hector Garcia acknowledged that the platform is in terrible condition and said that the LIRR had for some time been seeking funding to make permanent repairs. He said that there is a project in the pipeline to repair platforms, including those at Hicksville, but that it is at least a year away. In the meantime, temporary repairs will be made to correct the most hazardous situations.
Mr. Greenberg said that the deterioration of facilities is an issue for the MTA. He said that at many places conditions get to the point of falling apart before any corrective actions are taken.
Ms. Michaels said that the right of way near the Hicksville station was never cleaned, despite Bob Puciloski’s assurances that Hicksville would be the first priority area after Jamaica. She said that now conditions are getting worse.
Ms. Michaels said that she has been on a train recently that had its air conditioning operating, despite the day being cold. She asked how the heating and air conditioning systems are controlled and whether there are guidelines about when heat or air conditioning is used.
Ms. Michaels said that she had recently been on a car that had lost power in the East River tunnel, leaving passengers in the dark. She questioned whether there are procedures to deal with this situation and whether the loss of power also knocks out communication equipment. She asked whether there is a way for train crews to know if a car has lost power if they are not in the affected car. Larry Rubinstein said that he believes that a crew member has to see the problem and notify the engineer.
The meeting was adjourned at 5:20 p.m.
Long Island Rail Road Commuter Council
April 5, 2012
In the last few weeks there have been several developments in legislative issues that affect Long Island Rail Road riders. On the positive side, at the State level we have an on-time 2012-2013 budget that for the first time in three years did not include cuts to or sweeps of MTA funding. As promised, the loss of Payroll Mobility Tax funding that resulted from changes to the tax late last year was made up by an allocation from the general fund. Also included in the budget package is a commitment for the State to continue to provide $770 million in funding to meet payments on bonds issued to finance the last three years of the current Capital Program.
While it isn’t part of the budget, the MTA Capital Program Review Board deemed approved the amendments to the Capital Program that had been submitted by the MTA. This allows the MTA to go ahead with the next three years of capital projects and sets the stage for the MTA to receive a $3 billion low interest federal loan that will go toward completion of the East Side Access project. The approval of the amended Capital Program will also allow the MTA to administratively reprioritize work on the Hicksville to Ronkonkoma second track and, by using a design-build procurement and moving signal design work on this segment to a later time, to proceed with construction work on the second track and finish the first phase of the project two years ahead of schedule.
The news from the federal level isn’t as positive. On this past Thursday March 29, the House of Representatives passed a three month extension to the existing transportation bill and went into recess until after the holidays. As the authority to collect motor fuel taxes was set to lapse within two days, the Senate had little choice but to approve the extension, which was signed by the President on March 30.
This legislation maintains existing funding levels, but it doesn’t create stable funding and does nothing to restore previous levels of pre-tax transit commuter benefits. The transportation bill that had been passed by the Senate included language that would have raised the transit benefit level to equal the maximum pre-tax benefit available for parking. On the State level, similar legislation that would have equalized limits on pre-tax parking and transit benefits has passed the Senate and is currently under consideration in the Assembly Ways and Means Committee.
While the State budget outcome was positive, there is still a long way to go. The current MTA Capital Program is being financed largely through borrowing, and this path is not sustainable for future Capital Programs. We need new funding sources at the State level, and at the federal level nothing has been settled. We will talk about the issues that remain and what we should do about them in the business portion of the meeting today.
Since our last meeting LIRR Chief Engineer Robert Puciloski, who has met with both the Council and smaller groups of members, has left the LIRR and assumed a Chief Engineer position with Metro-North Railroad. Replacing him in the Chief Engineer role at the LIRR is Kevin Tomlinson. Mr. Tomlinson is an LIRR veteran who last served as Chief Program Officer for the Rail Road, where he was responsible for managing the LIRR’s capital projects.
In early March we sent a letter to LIRR Call Center manager Gabrielle Rodriguez congratulating her for winning the 2012 American Public Transportation Association Call Center Challenge. We also sent a letter to Helena Williams extending our congratulations for this honor to the LIRR. You have a copy of this letter in your packet.
Thanks to everyone for alerting us to the presence or absence of LIRRCC posters in the stations that you visit. We’ve provided the LIRR with additional posters to fill in some of the gaps. If you are still seeing stations without posters or other problems, please let Bill or another member of the staff know.
On February 14, Bill, Matt, Sheila and I met with Town of Brookhaven officials and their chosen developer for the transit oriented development project being planned for the Ronkonkoma station. The project is in a very early stage, with the developer still evaluating a range of possible uses that could be located in the project. We want to ensure that commuters are protected in the planning and development process, especially with regard to making sure that commuters have sufficient parking, and will continue to monitor this project and communicate with the Town.
On March 20, Bill, Matt, and I met with Senator Skelos’ Director of District Operations Thomas Locasio, who had reached out to Matt at an event a few days earlier. We discussed our priorities for legislative action affecting LIRR riders and our interest in working with legislators to improve conditions for riders.
At the MTA’s Capital Program Oversight Committee meeting on March 26, there was a presentation on phase one of the Jamaica Capacity Improvement Project. The most notable element of phase one is the establishment of scoot service to Brooklyn to free up capacity to serve Manhattan terminals. The result of this project will be that there will no longer be trains running between points east of Jamaica and Atlantic Terminal. All Brooklyn service will be provided from a new platform constructed next to the Air Train building in Jamaica. A copy of the set of presentation slides shown at this meeting is in your packet today.
On Tuesday, March 27 we participated in the LIRR’s Meet the Managers event, which was held at Penn Station from 4 to 7 pm. The focus of the event was the Port Washington Branch and Kew Gardens, Forest Hills, and Woodside Stations. We added some names to our mailing list and spoke to a number of commuters who had a range of issues to discuss. Among these were inaccuracy of station clocks, on-board restroom conditions, the use of electronic information boards, ticket policies, problems with using quiet cars at stations with short platforms, pre-tax commuter benefit legislation, and the amount of service provided.
These sessions are good opportunities to reach out to riders, but I did notice that it was difficult for riders to readily identify the LIRR staff responsible for a particular line or station. As a result, I am recommending to the LIRR that line managers for the parts of the Rail Road being addressed at each session be stationed behind a table with conspicuous signage identifying their area of responsibility. The next Meet the Manager session will be held on April 24 and will focus on the Long Beach, Far Rockaway, Hempstead, and West Hempstead branches.
Two days later, on Thursday March 29, we met with new LIRR Senior Vice President of Operations Mike Gelormino to talk over issues surrounding on-time performance. The LIRR has achieved a number of on-time performance records over the last few months, but there are a number of persistent issues on the Rail Road that limits on-time performance. Some of you may remember Mr. Gelormino from his time as the LIRR’s Chief Mechanical Officer, and in our meeting he expressed a willingness to take a fresh and comprehensive look at the causes of late trains, much as he did with respect to the diesel fleet. We want to make sure that the LIRR has the resources it needs to correct the pinch points that diminish on time performance and will coordinate with the Rail Road to work on these issues. We can discuss this further in the business portion of our meeting.
Yesterday I went to the first meeting of the Long Island Association’s Economic Development and Infrastructure committee. I am a member of the LIA, and asked to join this group since it will be dealing with issues that are of importance to LIRR commuters. Among the concerns of this committee is the implementation the Ronkonkoma and Wyandanch station area projects funded through the first round of the Governor’s Regional Economic Development Council process and the identification of candidates for the second round of this funding. I plan to work closely with this group to make sure that the interests of the riders are represented.
In your packets today are several press releases and letters that I have sent since our last meeting on issues that we have discussed.