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Meeting Minutes Aug 18, 2011

A meeting of the Metro-North Railroad Commuter Council (MNRCC) was convened at 4:00 p.m. on July 21, 2011, in the 5th floor Board room, MTA headquarters, 347 Madison Avenue, New York City. The following members were present:

• James Blair (via phone)
• Francis Corcoran (via phone)
• David Buchwald
• Randy Glucksman
• Richard Cataggio
• Neal Zuckerman

The following members were absent:

• Rhonda Herman

In addition, the following persons were present:

• William Henderson -PCAC Executive Director
• Bob Jelley -CT Rail Council
• Barry Adler -Concerned citizen

Approval of Agenda and Minutes

The agenda for the August 18, 2011 meeting was approved as amended and the minutes of the July 21, 2011 meeting were approved.

Chair’s Report

The Chair’s Report is attached to these minutes.

David Buchwald gave the Chair’s report and commented on the MTA website. He noted that the service information section of the website continuously says “Good Service” even when there are reports of system wide delays.

Board Report

Jim Blair gave the Board report. He said that he and other Board members had attended meetings with MTA officials to discuss progress that has been made toward implementing a contactless smart card fare system. The process now underway is the design of the system that will introduce smart card fare collection on Staten Island, which will initially be for the express buses only. The system that will be introduced will be a stripped down version of NYC Transit’s final fare collection system, and the plan is to incrementally add complexity to the system. Mr. Blair said that the fare collection system will be using standard smart card banking cards, supplemented by an MTA card that will not be connected to bank or credit card accounts.

Mr. Buchwald asked what the plan is for the extension of smart card to the commuter railroads. Mr. Blair stated that the MTA is not yet there in terms of a plan to accept smart cards on the railroads and that there are a number of options, including outfitting conductors with smart card readers. He noted that in this discussion he commented that gating stations needs to be on the table for discussion. Mr. Blair said that there is a study underway to review commuter rail fare collection alternatives and that the Council should review this study.

Mr. Blair said that he had raised several issues with Howard Permut, including questions about the M-8 car implementation strategy and whether Board members could receive monthly updates on the progress of this strategy. He also requested a full explanation of Metro-North’s strategy for the next generation of rolling stock, which would be the M-9 cars if multiple unit equipment is chosen.

Mr. Blair said that there are many things in play in the choice of the next generation of rolling stock, with a major issue being whether Metro-North would rely upon unpowered coaches and locomotives or powered multiple unit cars. Other issues that he raised with President Permut are the adequacy of signage on platforms where there are construction impacts and the potential for Metro-North or MTA to implement a common information number similar to the 311 system in New York City. As a result of the MNRCC comments, Metro-North committed to improve signage at the Garrison and Cold Spring stations.

Mr. Buchwald said that as of 4:55 p.m. Metro-North was reporting delays systemwide on its alert system. He asked Rich Cataggio, who had ridden an inbound train to reach the meeting, for a report on his experiences. Mr. Cataggio stated that communication on board was great. Mr. Buchwald noted that the MTA website had indicated “Good Service” until the past five minutes.

Mr. Henderson reported on the fare hearing that the MTA held for the new Fairfield Metro station. He said that Associate Director Jan Wells had attended the hearing, and that, other than Mr. X, there were no public speakers on the proposal. He said that the fares that were proposed were not controversial as they were equal to those at neighboring stations.

Mr. Blair commented that it was good for the State of Connecticut to approve the funds for the purchase of twenty five single unit M8 cars. This action complements the MTA Board’s earlier approval of funding for its share of these cars. Mr. Blair also noted that in Metro-North’s report on the train stranded near the Green’s Farms on July 22 there was a lot of discussion of switches affected by the heat. Bob Jelley said that this is the first time that he had heard of switches deforming because of heat.

Mr. Blair noted that a finding of no significant impact (FONSI) had been entered in regard to the North White Plains parking garage project, clearing the way for it to proceed.

Old Business

The Council voted to approve the by law changes concerning representation on the PCAC Executive Committee that had been moved at the last meeting. Mr. Buchwald stated that he will notify Ira Greenberg of the result.

New Business

The Council discussed the MTA’s July Financial Plan and proposed 2012 budget. Mr. Henderson summarized issues contained in a background memo that had been emailed to the members. Mr. Buchwald said that there are many uncertainties in the proposed budget and that the issues surrounding the budget may stretch beyond the Council’s ability to deal with them, but that the Council must work to ensure that the Metro-North portion of the MTA Capital Program is protected. He said that he has noticed many new and exciting capital projects for other operating agencies, but not as much in the way of new exciting things for Metro-North

Neal Zuckerman said that this may be a bad time in the economic cycle, but we need to think about where Metro-North will have gaps in facilities that need to be filled.

Mr. Buchwald stated that the Council should be thinking ten to fifteen years into the future and see what is possible. Some options would be further electrification and the extension of the Harlem line third track. There are some developments that would further this goal such as the replacement of Secor Road Bridge in Scarsdale, which was constructed to accommodate a third track.

Mr. Zuckerman agreed that this is a good way of looking at things. He said that the Council needs to keep a tally of things that are needed for the future and that the issue is not so much a matter of bad service that needs to be improved. He noted that Metro-North’s service quality is much better than that of the LIRR, as his family spends time on Long Island each summer and can see the differences in the two railroads.

Mr. Jelley stated that a major question for Metro-North is whether the Railroad will gain access to Penn Station. He said that only the Hudson and New Haven lines would serve Penn Station. Mr. Buchwald stated that I-287 corridor is the key to the development of the Metro-North region and that the planning process is continuing, but financing for the Tappan Zee Bridge replacement and other improvements is still up in the air. Mr. Buchwald said that another area that can be improved is platform signage and information systems. Randy Glucksman said that he wanted to see Pascack Valley line passing sidings added.

Mr. Adler stated that Metro North does not use functions on the hand held ticketing equipment that would allow them to accept credit cards on board and asked why they do not. Mr. Zuckerman commented that there are many things that are different on the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North. Mr. Buchwald stated that he would like for Metro-North to have a big project that it can move forward if the resources were available. He asked what Metro-North do if it could secure the funding and noted that the Railroad is programmed to receive a total of $300 million in funding for stations in the current Capital Program.

Mr. Blair stated that the Council could get a presentation on needs analysis and what the Railroad wants to do from Metro-North. The big projects on the drawing board are the M-9s or other rolling stock to replace the M-3 fleet, as well as the expansion of service to the West Side of Manhattan and the expansion of service northward. He said that the Railroad also wants to continue to upgrade its equipment maintenance shops so that it can keep its level of reliability high. Mr. Blair said that he is very interested in getting Metro-North management on the record on this issue and giving them the Council’s opinions.

Mr. Henderson added that another area where Metro-North is also interested in investing is in projects that improve the reverse commute. Mr. Adler said that the interlocking project at Fordham is a step toward improving the reverse commute.

Mr. Buchwald asked if there are other policy aims that we want to add to our agenda.

Mr. Adler asked why the Mount Vernon West station platforms have no ADA warning strips. Mr. Henderson stated he will ask about this.

Mr. Blair said that the pocket schedules are unreadable, but Metro North is reformatting them to improve their readability. Mr. Buchwald said that he finds the non-timetable section of the schedule to be pretty well laid out.

Mr. Blair hopes that the council will concur with his concern about the degree of leverage that is being used to fund the MTA Capital Program. He said that he doesn’t know what the impact of this will be on the assessments of the bond rating agencies or how close we actually are to problems.

Mr. Buchwald commented he is concerned that the budget does not address the long term problems of the MTA and ways to address them such as a plan for increased City and State support, dealing with potential changes to the Payroll Mobility Tax and the potential benefits of congestion changes. Mr. Blair agreed with this assessment.


The meeting was adjourned at 6:00 pm.

Respectfully Submitted,

William Henderson
Executive Director

Metro-North Railroad Commuter Council
Chair’s Report
August 18, 2011

As we learned at our last meeting, the leadership situation at the MTA is changing considerably. Chairman Jay Walder will be assuming the position of CEO at MTR in Hong Kong and his last day at the MTA is slated to be October 21st. Mr. Walder’s embrace of technology is certainly consistent with many of the improvements in customer communication that we are trying to achieve, but his overall record was mixed, including fare increases and service cuts resulting from state funding reductions and persistent financial shortfalls. Governor Cuomo’s appointment of an advisory committee for the selection of a new Chairman consisting of respected and experienced members is encouraging, but Mr. Walder’s departure creates a good deal of apprehension and uncertainty within the MTA at a very sensitive time.

I was pleased to see that Governor Cuomo has signed legislation establishing a smoking ban on MTA commuter railroads’ ticketing, boarding, and platform areas. Thanks to Randy Glucksman for following this issue and informing us that the Governor had announced that he signed the bill into law. The approval of the bill received a good deal of media coverage and the reaction to it appears to be overwhelmingly positive.

Although the incident occurred in Connecticut, we are closely watching the investigation into the stranding of a New Haven line Metro-North train with 200 passengers on board. The malfunction took place between the Green’s Farms and Westport stations on the afternoon of July 22 in temperatures over 100 degrees. Problems with the catenary made it impossible for the train to proceed, but in part because of communication issues between Metro-North and local emergency responders, passengers were left on the train in the extreme heat with no air conditioning for about 50 minutes. A customer forum arranged by the Connecticut DOT is scheduled for at 6:00 this evening at the Westport Town Hall to provide an opportunity for the Railroad and passengers to discuss the situation, and Metro-North is preparing a report on the incident, which we will forward to members.

Please mark your calendar for our upcoming PCAC meeting on September 8. Under our normal schedule, the meeting would be held on the 1st, but as many people are still in summer mode until Labor Day, the PCAC Executive Committee has decided to move the meeting to the 8th. Our guest at the September PCAC meeting will be James Brennan, a member of the New York State Assembly from Brooklyn. Mr. Brennan chairs the Committee on Corporations, Authorities, and Commissions, which is the committee with primary responsibility for oversight of the MTA. Some of you may remember that Richard Brodsky was the PCAC’s guest several years ago; Assemblyman Brennan succeeded Mr. Brodsky as Committee Chair.