A meeting of the Metro-North Railroad Commuter Council (MNRCC) was convened at 4:30 p.m. on May 15, 2008, in the 5th floor Board room, MTA Headquarters, 347 Madison Avenue, New York City. The following members were present:
James F. Blair
The following members were absent:
Francis T. Corcoran
In addition, the following persons were present:
William Henderson – PCAC Executive Director
Jan Wells – PCAC Associate Director
Ellyn Shannon – PCAC Transportation Planner
Sal Oliva – GCT Fire Brigade
Rob Trietsch – GCT Fire Brigade
D.H. Dinh – GCT Fire Brigade
Marco A. Martinez – GCT Fire Brigade
Robin Brown – GCT Fire Brigade
Dave Jacoob – GCT Fire Brigade
Bob Jelley – CT Rail Commuter Council
Approval of Agenda and Minutes
The agenda for the May 15, 2008 meeting was approved as amended, moving the presentation by the Fire Brigade to earlier in the meeting. The minutes of the April 10, 2008 meeting were approved.
The Chair’s Report is attached to these minutes.
Introduction of Salvatore Oliva, Chief Metro-North Rail Road Fire Brigade
Chief Oliva said that he had started with the Fire Brigade in 1977 and had served as Chief for 9 years. He stated that a pivotal event in the history of the Fire Brigade occurred in August 1985, when seventeen coaches caught fire in the Grand Central Terminal railyard. In 1986 Richard Nagel started the Metro-North Fire Safety Department. The Department initially fielded 300 calls per year; in 2007, there were 1,700 calls, 722 of which were medical emergencies.
Chief Oliva introduced several members of the Brigade who had accompanied him while discussing the functions of the Fire Brigade. The Chief noted that each of his members have Cardio-Pulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) and Automated External Defibrillator (AED) training. In addition to responding to emergencies, the members of the Fire Brigade perform a lot of inspections in Grand Central Terminal. The Brigade is responsible for all “hot work” welding permits in the terminal, maintaining the safety of the hazardous materials storage facility, CPR and first aid training for Metro-North employees, and conducting semi-annual fire drills with all tenants and employees, including marking evacuation routes and establishing assembly areas. The Fire Brigade also supplies fire guards for all special events in the terminal, trains MTA Police, and enforces New York State fire codes for the Terminal.
Chief Oliva noted some of the progress that had been made in the past several years. In 1986 there were 144 track fires within the Terminal, which is defined as the area between 43rd and 56th Streets and between Madison and Lexington Avenues. In 2007, there were nineteen track fires in this same area. The Chief said that there are 3,300 fire detectors in Grand Central Terminal, and so responding to alarms from these detectors accounts for a great deal of the Brigade’s time. He said that the Brigade is the first responder to fire alarms in the Terminal. Previously, when the Fire Department responded initially to these calls, they were spending a great deal of time in the Terminal for false alarms and it was delaying responses throughout the remainder of their coverage area.
The Chief noted that while the Fire Brigade acts as a first responder, the Fire Department is still automatically dispatched to the Terminal when an alarm goes off. Often, however, the Fire Brigade has extinguished a fire or determined that an alarm is due to a system malfunction by the time that Fire Department personnel arrive on the scene.
The Brigade currently consists of 23 volunteers, in addition to the Chief. The Chief noted that it is becoming more difficult to recruit personnel and that he anticipates adding some paid positions to the Brigade. He said that he has high standards and will not compromise them in order to fill positions.
James Blair noted that the search for a successor to retiring Metro-North President Peter Cannito is ongoing. Both internal and external candidates for the position are being considered.
The financial situation of the MTA continues to decline, with real estate tax revenues down by 20 percent. These revenues make up 12 percent of the budgeted subsidy for the MTA. Gerard Kopera asked when Mr. Blair would expect service to be impacted by these shortfalls. Mr. Blair said that he expected that a triage approach will be implemented. He said that MTA leadership will work to preserve a state of good repair and operational soundness on the system and that the threat of service reductions should motivate the State to take action on MTA funding. Mr. Blair highlighted the commission headed by former MTA Chairman Richard Ravitch, which will look at the MTA’s capital and operating funding needs and make recommendations on how to fulfill them. He said that this would be a tall order, as the funding gap for the next capital program is likely to be on the order of $12 to $15 billion. If funding cannot be secured, it is likely that the pace of construction on the megaprojects would slow.
Mr. Blair also mentioned that he had discussed with George Walker whether adequate announcements are being made to advise passengers where to exit the train while work at the Scarborough station is ongoing. He also said that the operational consolidation of the MTA’s bus companies had been announced, which represents another step toward creating an environment of shared services and resources between operating agencies. Finally, Mr. Blair discussed the oil spill that had occurred in March at the Harmon Shops, for which Metro-North and its Assistant Director of Environmental Services and Compliance were criminally charged. He said that the spill had been due to the faulty actions of a contractor, but that the speed of reporting was a major issue in this case.
No Old Business was discussed.
Ellyn Shannon raised the issue of cost escalations at the New Haven maintenance facility that is being constructed by the State of Connecticut to service New Haven line trains. Bob Jelley of the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council said that although the cost of the facility was seriously underestimated, he believes that the failure of the State to commit additional funding for the facility was part of the political process and that funding will ultimately be forthcoming. Regardless, the Connecticut Council is concerned that delays could have an impact on service. The Council discussed this matter briefly.
The meeting was adjourned at 6:00 pm.
The MTA is committing $2.7 million for an Alternative Analysis study to create a one-seat ride between Stewart Airport and New York City. When the West of Hudson Regional Transit Access Alternatives Analysis Study is completed, an environmental impact analysis process will commence and is expected to be completed by 2010. In addition to examining rail access to Stewart Airport, the study will assess the potential for upgrades to the Port Jervis line that runs through Orange and Rockland Counties to reduce travel time into New York City.
It will also look at all means of getting to and from Stewart Airport, including ferries and buses to Beacon’s Metro-North station. The total cost of the study is $5.4 million; the other half of the cost will come from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The study will begin June 2.
The Tappan Zee Bridge study is currently delayed due to the need for Governor Patterson to review the project prior to the final selection of a preferred alternative. Once this review occurs the project is expected to move forward with the selection of a final alternative to study in the environmental impact statement.
Ellyn and Jan were invited to join a Metro-North tour of the Yonkers station and surrounding transit-oriented development with developer Arthur Collins. If you have not taken a trip to this historic station, which was designed by, the architects of Grand Central Terminal, Warren and Wetmore, it is worth the trip.
And while you are there you can even have a meal at the new restaurant X20 Xaviars on the water. Ridership at the Yonkers station has increased 40% since the completion of the station renovation. This multi-million dollar station renovation is the linchpin of the Yonkers waterfront revival and an outstanding example of public-private cooperation among the MTA, the City of Yonkers, and the private development community.
Please take a moment to look at the PCAC website, as it has been updated with April news and approved minutes can now be found on the drop-down menus for each council. Thanks to Jan Wells for coordinating the new and improved PCAC website.
In your packets today is a news story discussing the filing of criminal charges against Metro-North and its Assistant Director of Environmental Services and Compliance in connection with a spill of 17,000 gallons of diesel fuel at the Croton-Harmon rail yard in late March 2008. The severity of the spill was worsened because a containment system that should have limited the spill had been disabled by contractors working on a construction project at the site. The spill is being cleaned up by an environmental contractor hired by Metro-North. Staff will monitor the issue and keep members informed as the investigation into the incident proceeds.
We are also keeping a close eye on the issues that have arisen on the new New Haven line rail yard, as costs have risen from the original $300 million to an estimated $1.2 billion or more. There was discussion that an additional $252 million would be approved by the Connecticut Assembly last month, but the request for the money was put off until 2009 when the Assembly reconvenes.
Ellyn has a call in to Mark Mannix to find out Metro-North’s response to the problem and if there is concern about any scheduling delays for the project. The rail yard, is required to maintain the 342 new M8 cars. The prototypes are expected to arrive late next year, with new cars being shipped at a rate of ten per month beginning in 2010.