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Meeting Minutes Jan 18, 2011

A meeting of the Long Island Rail Road Commuter Council (LIRRCC) was convened at 4:30 p.m. on January 18, 2011, in the Transportation Services conference room at Penn Station, New York City.

The following members were present:

• Gerard P. Bringmann*
• Ira Greenberg
• Owen Costello
• Matthew Kessler
• Mark Epstein
• Maureen Michaels
• Larry Rubinstein
*via telephone

The following members were absent:

• Sheila Carpenter

In addition, the following persons were present:

• William Henderson -PCAC Executive Director
• Ellyn Shannon  -PCAC Transportation Planner
• Hector Garcia  -LIRR
• Bob Puciloski  -LIRR
• Joe Reilly  -LIRR
Approval of Agenda and Minutes

The agenda for the January 18, 2011 meeting was approved.  The minutes of the October 14 and the November 4, 2010 meetings were approved as amended.

Chair’s Report

The Chair’s Report is attached to these minutes.

Maureen Michaels introduced Allen Zerkin, NYU Graduate School of Public Service – Adjunct Associate Professor, to the members.  Mr. Zerkin was there to observe the meeting proceedings.

Ms. Michaels said she wanted to vet the Council goals and priorities for the year.  She asked that between today and February the members work on the items for which they should be advocating.  Ms. Michaels said the December PCAC Chairs Report was fairly comprehensive in outlining the Council’s accomplishments for 2010.

Ms. Michaels noted that in terms of the snowstorm that occurred during the holidays, it seemed like the LIRR was prepared prior to the storm, but things began to unravel as time progressed.  She said that later in the meeting the LIRR’s Chief Engineer, Bob Puciloski, will clarify for the Council why conditions began to deteriorate.  Ms. Michaels said that she has heard comments that the new equipment that has been purchased is not up to handling the snow, compared with the equipment that the Rail Road used twenty years ago.  She said that the biggest problem in this emergency was a lack of communication.

Ms. Michaels said it is important for the LIRR to provide service information to help riders make decisions as to whether they should stay home.  She said that overcrowding on the trains after the storm was dangerous and that if the trains had broken down between stations, people might have self-evacuated and jumped through the train windows.  Joe Calderone said he did know about the communication problems that riders experienced.

Owen Costello expressed doubt that everything was in place prior to the storm and reported that the MTA website was not updated regularly and announcements on platforms were terrible.  He said he heard that many people at the LIRR were on vacation and questioned why there was not a clear chain of command in place.

Mark Epstein noted that for some time people could not get home as the trains were packed, but that there was space on later trains.  Ms. Michaels noted that terms like “limited service” have no meaning to the rider who just wants to get home.  She said the communication of train departure times was very problematic.

Joe Calderone explained that in adverse conditions service planning staff come up with a schedule and they work closely with operations to develop this schedule based on current conditions. These departments will consider implementing a weekend schedule but fewer trains means more crowded trains.  He noted that during the most recent storm, the LIRR tried to maintain as much service as possible.  He acknowledged that the LIRR must do a better job communicating what “limited service” means.

Mr. Calderone acknowledged that the LIRR’s audio visual paging system (AVPS) malfunctioned on the Tuesday after the blizzard.

Ira Greenberg noted that there was a list of plowed parking lots posted on the website but that it was located so that few web site users knew about it.  Mr. Greenberg said that the list did not include all parking lots.  Mr. Calderone indicated that the LIRR likely concentrated on the level one lots.

Bill Henderson said he spoke to the Town of Babylon Commissioner of Public Works and he admitted that his crews had made mistakes in terms of not plowing the railroad station parking lots at Wyandanch.

Ms. Michaels suggested that a hot line number for plowing should be available.  Hector Garcia said the towns have told him that they respond to street plowing first and then address the parking lots.  Larry Rubinstein said that the Bellmore station parking lot was plowed.

Ms. Michaels said the Council will write a letter to the town supervisors to tell them that commuters are concerned that the parking lots are not being cleaned in a timely fashion.  Mr. Costello said that parking lot plowing must be done on an ongoing basis.

Mr. Greenberg questioned what the expectations should be for LIRR service restoration.  He said that service should be restored within 24 hours after the end of a winter storm and that people should not have to miss more than a day of work due to service disruption. Mr. Greenberg said if that is a legitimate expectation, then we should examine the steps that can reasonably be taken so that the LIRR can meet this expectation.

In response to Mr. Rubinstein’s question as to the decision making process during storms, Mr. Calderone said that the LIRR had done a preliminary review of lessons learned and has put them in place. In addition, he noted that MTA is doing a more in depth review of the larger issues.  He said that the AVPS will be installed in the outlying branch stations by the end of 2011.

Mr. Calderone said that he spoke to the vendor for the AVPS and that there are three different problems: when they tried to load AVPS with the schedule they were running, it overloaded and couldn’t operate; it takes 10 hours to load a new schedule into AVPS; and AVPS interfaces with TIMACS, which is a potential source of problems.  The vendor is looking to speed up the loading process, and have said they have developed a patch to help speed loading.

Mr. Calderone said that inadequate information through the public address system has been a problem.  In response, the LIRR has increased the staffing for public address announcements, and this worked in the January 12 storm.

Introduction of Bob Puciloski, LIRR Chief Engineer

Bob Puciloski said the blizzard caused major problems with switches at Jamaica as the winds blew out the gas switch heaters.  President Williams has asked that key switches be identified and changed from gas to electric.  He said that whether this can be practically done would depend on the costs to accomplish this change.  He noted the Jamaica reconfiguration effort will continue into the 2020’s.

Ms. Michaels said there are rumors that the snow removal group is not up to task.   In response to Ms. Michaels question as to the state of the art in equipment for snow removal, Mr. Puciloski reported that in terms of snow fighting equipment, they have three cold air high velocity blowers.  These machines work best on fluffy snow, go about 25 to 39 miles per hour, and are best suited for electrified portions of the track.  There is also a practice of running a diesel locomotive with an unoccupied multiple unit car behind it to keep the tracks clear.

In response to Mr. Costello’s question about why trains weren’t running on Tuesday, Mr. Puciowski said that they did not run a full schedule.  Yards were buried in snow and it was hard to do the required inspections of the equipment prior to operation. There was icing on third rail and high winds continued after the snow had stopped falling.  Mr. Costello said that on the Port Washington line, there were third rail issues and trains kept getting stuck.

Joe Reilly noted that they did run Port Washington service, but it was single track service using diesel trains.  He said the electric train performance got worse when the diesels were pulled from the line.  The M7 cars provide an indication of the amount of traction power that is being drawn, and this showed that third rail problems were likely.  The best practice is to not send electric passenger trains onto the track when there are still third rail problems, and the LIRR had to wait until it was safe to run the service.  Mr. Costello said that announcements were wrong as they were reflecting hourly service when service every two hours is the best that would have been possible under those conditions.  Mr. Reilly said that in the afternoon the LIRR ran diesels in a single track configuration from Woodside and that the performance of the diesel trains was getting worse over time.   It was only when the wind calmed down that conditions improved.

Mr. Calderone said that you can see the difference between blizzard conditions and ordinary snow in these two storms

Ms. Michaels noted that people have to get to work, and asked whether there is enough snow fighting equipment to restore service by the second day, whether there is sufficient staffing, and whether there is a way to stay ahead of the blizzard.  Mr. Puciloski said that they are looking to see if it would be wise to purchase more equipment and they are part of an all-agency committee that will address these issues as well.  He said the committee will look at best practices of snow removal at other transit agencies.  Mr. Puciloski noted that each engineer was debriefed on what the track was like after arriving at the terminal.

Mr. Costello said that Chicago doesn’t have problems with equipment running in the snow.  He suggested that East Side Access money should be devoted to upgrading snow equipment.

Joe Calderone said they have anti-freeze trains and scraper shoes to keep the third rail clear.  He said there are 75 to 100 scraper shoes in operation at any given time.

In response to Mr. Rubinstein’s question why engineers were not given permission to move equipment in and out of the yards, Mr. Puciloski said they may have had to wait, but emphasized that the movement of passenger equipment takes top priority.  He said that you can only operate one train within a signal block at a time and non-passenger “track cars” trains only move three to five miles per hour.  He said it took close to six hours to clean up the Harold interlocking and all trains were blocked during this time.  Mr. Puciloski said there are 700 miles of track and 300 miles of third rail territory.  He said the snow brooms that the Rail Road has work well in diesel territory but are not made for clearing the third rail.

Board Report

Mr. Greenberg did not give a formal Board report.  He commented on some of the points made at the Board meeting and in particular those that had been made by new Board member Charles Moerdler.  He also said that Pat Foye had been very helpful on issues related to the passenger experience.

Old Business

Mr. Rubinstein said that they are now posting short train information at Penn and urged his fellow members to check out the information.

New Business

Matt Kessler said that the Council should look at the objectives that it set last year and carry those that had not been accomplished over to its set of objectives for 2011.

Mark Epstein said that the Town of Oyster Bay has not built a replacement for the Hicksville parking deck and people are becoming fed up with limited shuttle service.  Ms. Michaels asked that staff arrange a meeting with Oyster Bay Supervisor John Venditto.

Ms. Michaels said that Steve Levy’s office called her and wants to have a meeting with the LIRRCC Suffolk representatives.

Ms. Michaels said she would like to sit down with the LIRR communications team and said that it is her perception that the website is not a priority.  Mr. Costello said that he is having problems staying registered for email alerts.  She asked that staff assist Mr. Costello.  Mr. Costello said that he would make another attempt and contact staff if necessary.

Ms. Michaels announced that Mr. Epstein has a meeting scheduled with newly elected State Senator Jack Martins.  She asked that anyone who has an issue that should be raised with the Senator speak to Mr. Epstein.


The meeting was adjourned at 6:00 pm.

Respectfully submitted,

Karyl Berger
Research Associate