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Meeting Minutes Jan 20, 2011

A meeting of the Metro-North Railroad Commuter Council (MNRCC) was convened at 4:30 pm on January 20, 2011 in the 5th floor Board room, MTA Headquarters, 347 Madison Avenue, New York City.

The following members were present:
•James F. Blair

•Randy Glucksman

•David Buchwald

•Rhonda Herman

•Neal Zuckerman

The following members were absent:
•Richard Cataggio

•Francis T. Corcoran
In addition, the following persons were present:

•William Henderson-PCAC Executive Director

•Jan Wells-PCAC Associate Director

•Ellyn Shannon-Transportation Planner

•Robert Lieblong-Metro North

•Donna Evans-Metro North

•Bernadette Cicchesi-Metro North

•David Treasure-Metro North

•Allen Zerkin-Concerned citizen

Approval of Agenda and Minutes

The agenda for the January 20, 2011 meeting was approved as amended and the minutes of the November 10, 2010 meeting were approved.

Summary of Winter Storms from Robert Lieblong – MNR Senior Vice President, Operations

In deference to Mr. Lieblong’s many responsibilities, the Council invited him to proceed prior to other business.  Mr. Lieblong briefed the Council on three major storms occurring on December 26, 2010, January 7, 2011, and January 11, 2011.  He said that the storm of the 26th produced from 12 to 20 inches of snow across the Metro-North service area.  In the January 7 event, there were lesser amounts in New York City, but 12 inches of snow in Brewster and on the New Haven line.  In these storm events, part or all of the Railroad was covered by snow rising above the running rail.

In the first storm there were wind speeds up to 63 miles per hour, and phone calls among MNR staff started on the Thursday prior to the storm, followed by preparations for heavy storm starting on Christmas Day.  Mr. Lieblong explained that in preparation for the storm, management started calling in platform protection, interlocking protection, and catenary maintenance forces.  The first Emergency Management Task Force conference call occurred at 10:00 a.m. Sunday and Metro-North opened its control center at 2:00 p.m. on December 26.

Mr. Lieblong said that December 26 was a good day until 10:00 p.m. and that the Railroad was operating at 95 percent on time performance through the storm.

There were issues developing with catenaries in the New Haven area later in the day, though, and by 2:00 a.m. Metro-North knew that there was a problem.  New Haven service was suspended and Metro-North rescued stranded trains and ran diesels on the New Haven line.  Mr. Lieblong said that he notified Chairman Walder at that point that Metro-North couldn’t run New Haven service, but could operate on the Harlem and Hudson lines.  Around 8:00 or 8:30 a.m. the next day, however, the Railroad lost four trains as a result of their being left “high and dry,” or without traction power,  because of ice and snow buildup.  At that point, the Railroad took a step back and suspended service.  They got snow blowers in action in the morning, and diesel patrol trains were put into service as well.

Mr. Lieblong said that the shutdown in the Bronx lasted 3 to 3 ½ hours.   A special schedule was put into effect on December 27, which generally provided one train per hour at stations.  In the meantime, Metro-North concentrated on cleaning yards at night.  He said that there was no way to run a regular schedule on Tuesday, and instead they ran a Saturday schedule with extra trains.   There were twenty-two extra trains used and some crowding on the trains.  On Tuesday December 28, demand in the early morning was light, but later in the day people came out.  Metro-North went to work on clearing interlockings on Tuesday night in an attempt to run normal service on Wednesday.  On Wednesday the Railroad ran a regular schedule with a 97.6 percent on time performance, in contrast to about 85 percent on Sunday, no scheduled trains running on Monday, and 85 percent on Tuesday.  Until Wednesday, it was impossible to provide a safe full schedule.

The second storm on January 7 was not a major problem for the Railroad as the equipment held up well.

Mr. Lieblong said that a third storm occurred on January 11.  In this storm the weather had begun to take a toll on the red, or New Haven line, fleet.  Prior to the storm, the Railroad was still operating at 98 percent on time performance on the Harlem and Hudson lines and 93.6 percent on the New Haven line. He said that there was a large increase in shop count, with 109 cars in the shop as of this morning, for the red fleet.  In response, the Railroad increased number of diesel trains being used on the New Haven line from four to seven.  He said that the fleet is operating on the edge, but hopes that the bad equipment has fallen out and that the Railroad can stabilize the number of cars available for service.

Neal Zuckerman asked what part of the Railroad is most susceptible to storms.

Mr. Lieblong responded that traction motor snow ingestion leads to failures and that there were some problems on M7s, but the situation was much more severe on New Haven line.  On the right of way, snow in the switches leads to switches being stuck on center, with the result that two tracks are taken out of service.

Mr. Zuckerman asked how schedule changes get communicated to the public.  Mr. Lieblong responded that Metro-North uses a wide variety of channels, including the web, email, station announcements, the news media, and announcements in Grand Central Terminal.  Donna Evans, MNR Director of Corporate and Public Affairs, said that the MTA website is best way to get the word out about changes in service.

David Buchwald asked how the decision is made about whether to go to a Saturday, Sunday, or special schedule.  He noted that the Saturday schedule doesn’t have peaks in service.  Mr. Lieblong responded that Metro North uses extra trains to pick up peaks in ridership.  He said that this is one of lessons learned in these storms.  In the first storm they made decisions about service based on crew reports and set up trains to carry these decisions out on the fly.  In contrast, in the January 11 storm the Railroad consciously decided to set up trains in advance, which worked much better.

Mr. Lieblong explained that the Railroad wants to run on some sort of a schedule, whatever that may be, so that people will know what to expect.  For the second storm the Railroad established a link between the control center, train crews and customer service.  Spotters were deployed in the field to monitor conditions, and twelve additional trains were deployed.  Nevertheless, there was some crowding on the Harlem and Hudson lines.

Randy Glucksman said that on the West of Hudson lines there was a lack of coordination.  He said that in the course of his travel, a train showed up but missed its connection.  PATH was running erratically and missed connections with trains at Hoboken.  Mr. Glucksman said that New Jersey Transit ran no special service and that trains were packed because they were operating on a Sunday schedule.

Mr. Lieblong said that Metro-North learned in the first storm that it is best to increase train consist sizes when weather forces the use of a Sunday schedule.  In the second two storms service was run using a weekday consist size but a Sunday schedule

Mr. Buchwald discussed the email alert system.  He said that during the time when ticket vending machines had problems accepting credit cards, he seemed to get email alerts about the credit card problems every 1 ½ hours.  He said that this may have been too much for the topic.

Mr. Lieblong said that he had heard that complaint, but in general the Railroad has come a long way in communicating with its riders.

Jim Blair commented that people don’t realize how bad conditions were on the New Haven line, with thirty inches of snow at points.  He said that he recalled that in a prior blizzard, decisions were made not to struggle to run service, lest the fleet be in jeopardy.  Mr. Blair asked whether this is still the Railroad’s protocol, or was some similar policy followed in recent storms.

Mr. Lieblong explained that the protocol now is to make a decision based on conditions, passenger demand, the physical plant condition, and what the storm is expected to do to fleet.  He said that in the recent storms Metro-North took M3s out of service and ran more diesels on the New Haven line to protect some M2s and ensure that they would be available for service after the storm.  Mr. Lieblong explained that in the next storm Metro-North will run 3 additional diesel sets on the New Haven line.  This strategy saves 24 multiple unit cars from having to run in challenging and potentially damaging conditions.

Mr. Glucksman said that he heard that Metro-North had run combination diesel-electric service in some places.  Mr. Lieblong responded that Metro-North had operated diesel trains up to North White Plains and midway on the New Haven line, and then operated electric trains from those points northward to avoid potential problems.

Jan Wells asked about catenary problems in the storm.  Mr. Lieblong said that there is lot of work going on and that 60 percent of the wire in the Connecticut portion of the system is being replaced.  He said that some tracks are out of service for overhead wire replacement in Connecticut.  New wire is being installed between the New York State line and South Norwalk. Old wire remains from New Haven to Devon-Norwalk.

Mr. Lieblong said that new wire had been torn down over the past weekend at Noroton Heights and that this could have been as a result of poor installation by a contractor or of equipment failure.  He said that during icy conditions Metro-North runs deadhead trains with pantographs to keep the catenary wire clean.

Chair’s Report

The Chair’s Report is attached to these minutes.

The staff distributed proposed State legislation banning smoking on commuter rail platforms for discussion.  Jim Blair said that Metro-North may take a position on this legislation that is similar to the one they took on quiet cars, that such a restriction would be hard to enforce.

Ellyn Shannon remarked that the PCAC office has received comments from a Metro-North rider wanting to start a quiet car petition.  Mr. Glucksman said that he is in favor of the smoking ban legislation.  Mr. Zuckerman said that he would like to hear from train riders before the Council establishes its position.

The Council discussed North White Plains parking facility Environmental Assessment.  Mr. Buchwald said that there is a need for parking at North White Plains and that this facility serves people from north of the station whose local stations don’t have much parking.  He said that he would like to hear comments about the facility due to his other roles as Common Council member and Chair of the Traffic Commission for the City of White Plains.

Board Report

The Board Report is attached to these minutes.

Jim Blair elaborated on several issues.  He said that he has noticed the “non-stop” advertising  campaign that the MTA is running and said that airing positive news about the MTA is needed to counteract the “bomb throwers” who are unwilling to acknowledge that the MTA and its agencies are doing some things right.  Mr. Blair went on to say that the MTA Budget is very tight, and that it is only in balance because it assumes that conditions will be positive.   He said that the out years of the financial plan are currently projected to have a deficit without further action.

Old Business

No Old Business was discussed.

New Business

Mr. Buchwald outlined the priorities that he sees for the Council.  They include:

1.Members and the need to reach out to get Council vacancies filled;

2.Reaching out to Counties. It was noted that Mr. Zuckerman is working with Bill Henderson and Jan Wells to arrange for Putnam County listening meetings.  Mr. Zuckerman said that it is important to speak with commuters and find out their needs;

3.Reaching out to Elected Officials;

4.Research reports;

5.Developing a list of important guests that the Council would like to invite.

Ms. Wells said that the LIRRCC has suggested that the PCAC do outreach on how MTA is funded.

Mr. Glucksman suggested that the Council replace a regular MNRCC meeting with a “Meet the Commuter Council” event in Grand Central Terminal.


The meeting was adjourned at 6:00 pm.

Respectfully submitted,

Deborah Morrison

PCAC Administrative Assistant