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Meeting Minutes July 15, 2010

A meeting of the Metro-North Railroad Commuter Council (MNRCC) was convened at 4:30 p.m. on July 15, 2010, in the 5th floor Board room, MTA headquarters, 347 Madison Avenue, New York City.  The following members were present:

• James Blair
• Randy Glucksman
• David Buchwald
• Rhonda Herman
• Richard Cataggio
• Neil Zuckerman

The following members were absent:

• Francis Corcoran

In addition, the following persons were present:

• William Henderson -PCAC Executive Director
• Janice Wells  -PCAC Associate Director
• Ellyn Shannon  -Transportation Planner
• Karyl Berger  -Research Associate
• Orrin Getz  -Concerned citizen
• Barry Adler  -Concerned citizen

Approval of Agenda and Minutes

The agenda for the July 15, 2010 meeting was approved.  Mr. Buchwald said that Randy Glucksman asked that some items be added for discussion under New Business.  The minutes of the April 15, 2010 meeting were approved.

Chair’s Report

The Chair’s Report is attached to these minutes.

Jim Blair indicated that he spoke to MNR and they were going to Peekskill to follow up on the problems that were articulated at the meeting that he and Bill Henderson attended.  Mr. Blair said he spoke to Mark Mannix, Director of Community Affairs, who told him the cleanup along the siding had been completed and that progress on the other issues discussed was occurring.

Board Report

The Board Report is attached to these minutes.

Mr. Blair summarized the meeting he attended in Peekskill and Mr. Henderson said he would ask MTA Real Estate for an update on what is happening with regards to the commercial space at the Peekskill station.

Mr. Blair said he was contacted by Michael Grynbaum of the New York Times for his input on the fare proposals.  Mr. Blair said that he explained to Mr. Grynbaum that nothing had been given to the Board members regarding the financial plan and fare proposals.  Mr. Blair said he told Mr. Grynbaum that Metro-North was concerned about any proposal that would drive customers back to their automobiles.

In response to Mr. Buchwald’s question about the MTA Boards consideration of commuter rail issues now that the LIRR and MNR committees are meeting jointly, Mr. Blair said that this arrangement has underscored the fact that there are important differences between the railroads.  He said there may be policies that work for one railroad but do not necessarily work for the other.

Mr. Blair said that the two committees meet as one, but there are separate parts of the meeting that are devoted to each committee’s business.  He said the LIRR is more defensive in the meetings but the members are trying to break this down.  He noted that generally MNR compares favorably to the LIRR in the joint meeting.  He said the committee is sensitive to preventing problems that might result from a combination of the MNR with the LIRR

Ellyn Shannon noted that the committee structure may present problems in terms of capital needs because the LIRR currently has far greater capital needs than MNR.

Bill Henderson noted that both the completion dates for East side Access and the Second Avenue Subway have been extended to late 2016.

Mr. Blair announced that a public hearing concerning NYC Transit’s station booth closings was held the previous night.  He was at the hearing in the Bronx and noted that lots of union workers attended and many others who were sympathetic to not closing the booths attended the hearing.

Mr. Blair reported that Diana Jones Ritter, the newly appointed MTA Managing Director, would be starting her job next week.  He said that there has been something of a dustup regarding her appointment.   He said she was earning $136,000 as Director of the New York State Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities and that her move to the MTA would increase her earnings substantially.  He commented that it seems that the MTA is tone deaf to have brought her into the organization at this time.

Ms. Shannon noted this position seems similar to the one held by Katherine Lapp and that it is unclear how the position was advertised, whether there were any other applicants, and what was entailed in the hiring process.

Neil Zuckerman asked about the impacts that the East Side Access project would have on MNR’s riders.  Mr. Henderson said he is setting up a tour for August of the East Side Access project focusing on its connections to Grand Central Terminal.

Mr. Blair said one compensating factor for MNR riders will be the ability to go into Penn Station when the Penn Station Access project is completed.

New Business

Randy Glucksman asked whether a ban on smoking on station platforms has been considered.

Mr. Buchwald suggested that the MTA institute a no smoking policy on all outdoor platforms.

In response to Mr. Cataggio’s request to get copies of the monthly MNR Committee agenda books, Mr. Henderson said he would ask Deborah Morrison to send the members a note about the dates of the committee meetings and to let them know the agendas have been posted on the MTA website:

Old Business

No Old Business was discussed.

Introduction of Susan G. Metzger, MTA Board Member and Special Advisor for West-of-Hudson Transit Needs, to discuss her new role and issues facing the MTA and Metro-North Railroad.

David Buchwald introduced Ms. Metzger, who opened her remarks by explaining her take on her new role as advisor to the Chairman on West of Hudson issues.  She noted that West of Hudson service is the smallest part of Metro-North operations.  She said some service improvements were recently made in this area, but then the fiscal crisis occurred.  She noted that the Port Jervis route is 95 miles long but is only served by 13 trains a day.  She said this due in part to the physical constraints of the route.  There is only one track north of the Suffern station to Port Jervis and the only yard in this section is close to the Suffern station.  She explained that the Pascack Valley line does have a few sidings, which helps to keep service moving.  The sidings that exist on the Port Jervis line are difficult to use.

Ms. Metzger noted that because West of Husdon does not generate a lot of ridership, it is not given top priority.  She said the creation of the advisory position is position is a statement from Chairman Walder that West of Hudson service is important.

Ms. Metzger explained that West of Hudson service is important because it is the fastest growing county in the MTA service area.  She said that Orange County is the fastest growing county in New York State.  Ms. Metzger said that the West of Hudson region is involved in a number of initiatives.  She explained that Access to the Region’s Core (ARC) project will build two new tunnels under the Hudson River with a loop track that will accommodate the West of Hudson lines and provide them with a one seat ride into New York’s Penn Station.

Ms. Metzger said the second reason West of Hudson is important is because of the Tappan Zee Bridge.  The third reason it is important is the improvements that may result from West of Hudson Regional Transit Access Study (WHRTAS), which is now underway.  She said this would be a great opportunity to improve transit from central Orange County to New York City.  Ms. Metzger said if any of these improvements don’t happen, West of Hudson service will suffer.  She said it is important that the MTA plan ahead so there is a full understanding of what the impacts on service could be.  She any plan should include the impacts under several contingencies.

Ms. Metzger noted that currently all thirteen Port Jervis trains go to Hoboken, but once ARC becomes operational, it will reduce service to any one terminal.  At present there is a huge midday gap in service to Orange County.  She stressed that this exactly the kind of issue that needs to be addressed in any future plan.  She acknowledged that MNR has been thinking seriously about these issues, but it is imperative that the MTA is on the same page with MNR on these concerns.  She said the Chairman is very accessible and wants to work on these kinds of issues.  Ms. Metzger said that any Board member could work with Chairman Walder in the same way that she has.

Ms. Metzger noted that the Port Jervis Line has a double track right-of-way, but needs two tracks to be installed over the entire length of the right of way in order to take full advantage of the ARC tunnels.  She said that planning is difficult since the Suffern Yard belongs to NJT and not MNR.  Orrin Getz noted that this is an artifact of the agreement with the Erie Lackawanna Railroad where NJ DOT purchased the rail yard.

In response to Karyl Berger’s request to have Ms. Metzger shed some light on the proposed financial plan, Ms. Metzger said she is more optimistic than she had been and sees things are beginning to turn around.  She reported that in the past month MNR’s ridership was higher than that of the LIRR.  Ms. Metzger said that if they eliminated off peak fares, ridership would be greatly impacted.  She said it would be destructive to both railroads if the off peak fare were eliminated.

In response to Karyl Berger’s question as to how Ms. Metzger feels the joint committee structure is working, Ms. Metzger admitted she was not a big supporter when it was first announced that the committees would be meeting jointly.  She said that MNR is definitely less defensive but can be more boastful.  She said that the committee members are each trying hard to learn about the other railroad’s operations.

Rich Cataggio spoke about West of Hudson ridership but feels that there is other growth in this area that is not reflected in the numbers.  He said many commuters going to New York City use the Ramsey North station, but there needs to be an accurate accounting of the passenger flows in order to document that these riders are a part of the West of Hudson demand.  He also said that West of Hudson residents who use the Newburgh-Beacon ferry take East of Hudson service.  Mr. Cataggio noted that Tuxedo has had a surge in development and has added 2,500 homes.  Ms. Metzger said she had not thought about the impact of development on the Tuxedo station.

Ms. Shannon said it would be helpful to get the zip codes from “Mail & Ride” customers as a way to see where customers are actually coming from.  Mr. Cataggio said it would help to look at New Jersey Transit ticket purchases.

Orrin Getz suggested that MNR look at the use of Suffern Yard and discuss the situation with NJ Transit Executive Director James Weinstein.  Ms. Metzger said that New Jersey Transit operates the West of Hudson trains so they use the yard for MNR service.  She said that NJ Transit and the MTA are involved in talks about sharing a mid line yard.  Mr. Getz noted that MNR owns Hillburn yard.  Ms. Metzger said that MNR also owns the Port Jervis yard.

Randy Glucksman said it would be great if there were a station at Woodbury Common.  Mr. Cataggio said the residents of the town were adamantly opposed to a station because the tracks would be fifty feet from the town’s drinking water aquifer.

Ms. Metzger said that people who wish to go to Woodbury Common use the Harriman station and that there is a shuttle bus service to Harriman from Woodbury Common on weekends.  She also noted that U.S. Military Academy cadets sometimes alight at the Harriman station without understanding that there is no convenient way to get to West Point from the station.

Ms. Metzger said that there is a Transit Oriented Development study underway at Harriman and there is interest in TOD near Middletown.

Mr. Blair noted that the most successful TOD program would be one that looks at the whole corridor.


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

Respectfully submitted,

Karyl Berger
Research Associate