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Meeting Minutes Feb 18, 2010

A meeting of the Metro-North Railroad Commuter Council (MNRCC) was convened at 4:30 p.m. on February 18, 2010 in the 5th floor Board room, MTA Headquarters, 347 Madison Avenue, New York City.

The following members were present:

• James F. Blair
• Richard Cataggio
• David Buchwald
• Randy Glucksman

The following members were absent:

• Francis T. Corcoran
• Rhonda Herman
• Neal Zuckerman

In addition, the following persons were present:

• William Henderson  -Executive Director
• Jan Wells   -PCAC Associate Director
• Ellyn Shannon  -Transportation Planner
• Karyl Berger   -PCAC Research Associate
• Robert MacLagger  -Metro-North
• Daniel O’Connell  -Metro-North
• Jim McCormack  -Metro-North
• Rodney Chabot  -CT Rail Commuter Council
• Barry Adler   -Concerned citizen
• George Haikalis  -Concerned citizen
• Carlos Vallejo  -Concerned citizen
• Dan Biederman  -Concerned citizen

Approval of Agenda and Minutes

The agenda for the February 18, 2010 meeting was approved.  The minutes of the January 21, 2010 meeting were approved as amended.

Chair’s Report

David Buchwald presided at the meeting.  The Chair’s Report is attached to these minutes.

Jan Wells indicated that there has been an extremely favorable response to the Council’s mailing to local elected officials and that we have started to set meetings with officials.  She briefly described the concept of putting posters with the brochures in MNR stations and the members agreed it would be a good idea.

Old Business

The members briefly discussed the testimony that would be given at the public hearing.

Introduction of Robert C. MacLagger, MNR Vice President – Planning, Daniel O’Connell, MNR Director – Operations Planning

In response to Rich Cataggio’s question why the West of Hudson public hearing was being held in Suffern, which is served by a New Jersey Transit station, Mr. MacLagger indicated that it was a matter of what space was available for that time and reminded Mr. Cataggio that the 2009 hearing was held in Orange County.

Daniel O’Connell briefly discussed the proposed service cuts and said they were very cognizant of being equitable in the cuts they made to service.  He noted that for East of Hudson service, they were discontinuing or combining 13 trains.  He said that at present they have a policy of not reducing train consists when the seated load is 87 percent or higher.  He said that the proposal being made is to get as close as possible to a 95 percent seated load.  As a result, many Harlem and Hudson line trains would lose several cars, while few New Haven line trains would be affected.  Approximately 10,000 to 12,000 riders would be impacted.  He said there will be no crew cuts.  Maintenance savings resulting from the proposal had not been calculated, and no cars would be taken out of service.

In response to Mr. Blair’s question regarding the savings gained when a car is taken offline, Mr. O’Connell said that it saves $1.10 per car mile for traction power.

Mr. Blair asked if MNR would envision maintaining this level of service for the long term.    Mr. O’Connell said they would look to the elements in the service cut package to set the pattern for service in the future.  He said if there was ridership growth they would look again at the level of service provided.  Mr. MacLagger noted that average train occupancy is about 70 percent and a consist is sized for the largest occupancy that the train will have in a day.  He said that reduced consist size has a greater impact when service disruptions occur.

In response to Mr. Buchwald’s question about the efforts that will be made to inform the public of the service changes, Mr. O’Connell said that the conductors will be given instructions to make announcements about not putting bags on middle seats so that passengers will know they are available.

In response to Rodney Chabot’s question whether it is possible to remove two cars from a consist during the day instead of cutting a full train from service, Mr. MacLagger indicated that the additional labor costs would be more than the money that would be saved from such a move.  He also noted that the wear and tear on the cars’ couplings would take a big toll on them.

In response to Karyl Berger’s question about current ridership trends, Mr. MacLagger said that all increases from 2008 were lost in 2009.  Mr. O’Connell indicated that they do not expect to lose any riders on East of Hudson as a result of the cuts.  He said the total amount of savings from service cuts amounted to $2 million.

In response to Barry Adler’s question why midday service was not cut, since that is the time period with the lowest ridership, Jim McCormack indicated that cutting midday trains does not necessarily mean that you can cut the crews that had staffed them.

Mr. O’Connell reported on the first year’s operation of MNR’s Yankee Stadium station.  He said they carried 500,000 riders, of which 450,000 were traveling to a baseball game.  He reported that 35 percent were from the Hudson line, 30 from the New Haven line, and 25 percent from the Harlem line.  He said the rest came from Grand Central.  He said they are looking to make some improvements to the service including providing earlier trains for 7:05 p.m. games.  He said there were a few things that helped ridership.  Parking at the stadium is at least $28, and it helped that people had used Metro-North service before and knew what to expect when they chose to purchase tickets to Yankee Stadium.

Randy Glucksman asked about the parking situation in Tarrytown.  Mr. MacLagger said that the town is still charging for weekend parking and suggested that people go to Irvington.  He said that big stations at the end of lines were the major sources of ridership.

Mr. O’Connell reported on the football service to the Meadowlands.  He said it worked well but it was a huge effort.  He said that operating personnel had to qualify on Amtrak’s operating rules in order to work on these trains.  The service provided 6,000 rides.  He said the level of customer satisfaction was good but that customers want better communication at Secaucus Junction to inform them of where the thru service is going.  Mr. O’Connell said he would send Bill Henderson a copy of the wrap up report.

In response to David Buchwald’s question if any more consideration has been given to providing service to games other than those starting at 1 pm, Mr. O’Connell said that the problems with adding service to later games are on New Jersey Transit’s side, but they are involved in talks to figure out ways to expand service.

Mr. MacLagger said they are hoping the “railgating” area will encourage people to ride the train to the game.  He said they are also working on getting the April schedules set so they can market the changes.  He noted that all the changes in April are being made to permit work on capital projects.  The work includes concrete ties for the Upper Hudson line and work on the Bronx drainage system.

In response to Ellyn Shannon’s question about the status of MNR’s Capital Program, Mr. MacLagger said that the revised proposed 2010-2014 Capital Program is being formulated.  Mr. O’Connell said in terms of connecting services, there had been advances in adding new Fairfield, Connecticut to Southeast station service and new service to connect with the Poughkeepsie station.  He said ridership on connecting services had dropped and the ferry service had to be stopped because of icing on the river.  He said there is a pronounced drop in Newburgh-Beacon ferry ridership because of the increased availability of parking and heavy job losses.  He said that Metro-North is buying new buses for the Hudson Rail link and that they are looking to make the HRL service greener by purchasing hybrid buses.

In response to George Haikalis’ question as to the status of the Penn Station capital projects and whether current plans are adequate, Mr. MacLagger said that the Penn Station Access project is not even included in the 2010-2014 Capital Program.  He said that this project would primarily serve reverse commuter markets.

In response to Ms. Shannon’s question as to whether there is any information about the results of the Penn Station service simulation project, Mr. MacLagger said MNR is in the process of giving service plans to the project consultants, but the actual simulation has not yet begun.


The meeting was adjourned at 6:00 p.m.

Respectfully submitted,

Karyl Berger
Research Associate