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Meeting Minutes May 17, 2012


A meeting of the Metro-North Railroad Commuter Council (MNRCC) was convened at 4:00 pm on May 17, 2012 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

The following members were absent:
Richard Cataggio                 Frances T. Corcoran
Neal Zuckerman

In addition, the following persons were present:
William Henderson              -PCAC Executive Director
Jan Wells                              -PCAC Associate Director
Angela Bellisio                     -PCAC Consultant
Rodney Chabot                    -CT Rail Commuter Council

Approval of Agenda and Minutes
The agenda for the May 17, 2012 meeting was accepted and the minutes of the January 19, 2012 and April 19, 2012 meeting were approved.

Chair’s Report
A copy of the Chair’s Report is attached to these minutes.

David Buchwald noted that May is not likely to be as good as April for Metro-North in terms of performance.  He also said that email announcements referring to Metro-North’s phone system being down devalues the email alert system and that the alerts should generally be limited to informing riders of service delays.

Mr. Buchwald also briefly discussed the Grand Central Terminal Centennial celebration and noted that Metro-North has formally begun the process of seeking transportation improvements to provide for the North White Plains parking facility, and that this is a positive sign that this project is moving forward.

Rodney Chabot commented on the irony of new parking facilities being constructed in North White Plains, while at Stamford there is a move to demolish existing parking that is conveniently attached to the station by a skybridge and to build new parking some distance away.  This will force riders to walk a few blocks down the street to get to their cars.

Board Report
Jim Blair gave the Board Report and noted that Metro-North performance statistics reflect strong performance in the first four months of the year, though as Mr. Buchwald said, performance has not been as strong in May.

Mr. Buchwald questioned whether there was anything systemic at work in the drop off in performance of the past month.  Mr. Blair responded that Metro-North management may well have suspected that this would happen because of the loss of use of tracks caused by catenary work in Connecticut.  Mr. Blair reported that the PCAC Executive Committee had attended a briefing on Positive Train Control (PTC) last week.  Mr. Blair briefly discussed PTC and noted that the increase in safety that it produces compared with the level of safety produced by Metro-North’s current system is relatively small, while the cost of PTC is substantial.

Mr. Buchwald asked Mr. Blair how he feels the Lhota administration is doing in terms of guiding the MTA.  Mr. Blair replied that Mr. Lhota is an experienced operational, financial, and political hand and that he is quite deft at managing the system.  Mr. Blair continued that the Board respects Chairman Lhota and he has handled the press well.  Mr. Blair said that he has not heard how Mr. Lhota is viewed by the operating agency line managers but that he is very businesslike in his dealings with the MTA Board.  Mr. Lhota has support in Albany and the financial situation is currently not as dire as it has been, and this increases his effectiveness.  Mr. Blair stated that this month there will be a report on the East Side Access project at the MTA Board’s Capital Program Oversight Committee; this project remains a potential trouble spot for the MTA.

Old Business
The Council discussed its project to commemorate the Grand Central Terminal Centennial.  Jan Wells distributed an outline of proposed activities that the staff had prepared.  Ms. Wells said that she has asked Randy Fleischer about which stations are the “mini- me stations”.  Mr. Buchwald stated that this is an excellent opportunity for cross promotions with local historical societies.  He said that the Council’s part of the commemoration should be more than just a mini version of the MTA’s Centennial Celebration and that the Council’s activities should be about what service means to the community.  Rodney Chabot of the Connecticut council stated that he would gladly work with Mr. Buchwald on this direction.  Mr. Buchwald commented that he would like to do some thinking about how the Council can best hold events and whether they should be on a weekday or weekend.

Mr. Chabot stated that the original electric locomotive is located near Albany and asked whether we know if this piece of equipment is going to be a part of the Grand Central Centennial celebration.  Ms. Wells responded that she will find out whether this equipment will be involved in the celebration.

Mr. Buchwald asked other members’ opinions of the options that had been discussed thus far.  Mr. Blair commented that it’s a great idea for the Council to take the celebration to the local stations and that local officials and residents as well as rail buffs may help in the celebration.

Mr. Buchwald suggested that stations that would serve as sites for the celebration should be identified by the end of August.  This was generally agreed to be a good plan.

Randy Glucksman suggested that council contact Jack Swanberg.  He is a retired trainmaster the now lives in Guilford.

Mr. Chabot suggested that the celebration could involve the oldest commuter on the Metro-North Railroad, who is 95 years old.

Rhonda Herman pointed out that people’s involvement in the celebration depends on the features that are included.

Mr. Buchwald suggested that the Council’s efforts be linked to local celebrations.  Also, may want to look at other stations as well as those that have been identified to date.

Mr. Buchwald asked the Council to be in touch with him if anyone has any thoughts about how the Council might find prospective new members.  We have not had recommendations made by local officials and there is a need for new members.

Mr. Glucksman asked if the Council would receive a report on the BL20 locomotives, the performance of which has been disappointing.  Mr. Chabot remarked that legal requirements to accept the low bid are a problem.  Mr. Glucksman replied that all new equipment has problems, and he cited the experience of transit systems in Philadelphia and Boston.

Bill Henderson noted that he had attended a focus group that Metro-North’s Market Research Department had held about on-board train restrooms.  Jeff Olwell of Metro-North had said that he would keep the Council informed about upcoming market research during his recent appearance at a meeting and had invited PCAC staff to observe the focus group.  Mr. Henderson said that this was an interesting experience and that a striking feature was the differences between the participants’ first impressions of the restrooms and their attitudes once they inspected an actual M7 restroom.  Mr. Buchwald asked whether the Metro-North could share a report of the results of focus groups with the Council.

The meeting was adjourned at 5:40 pm.

Respectfully Submitted,
William Henderson
Executive Director



Metro-North Railroad Commuter Council
Chair’s Report
May 17, 2012

A few weeks ago, we reviewed the draft of Metro-North’s Customer Satisfaction Survey and in less than a month it will be on the trains.  This year’s survey starts on Wednesday June 13.  As we heard last month, one interesting feature of this survey is that Metro-North volunteers hand the surveys directly to passengers on weekdays, with temporary employees handling the weekends.   I also want to report that our comments on the survey had an impact, as Metro-North changed its quiet car question to ask respondents who ride in a peak train with a quiet car if they usually ride in that car or elsewhere on that train.  This change provides more information about the respondents and increases allows for more effective analysis of the results.

We’ll be talking about ways that our Council can participate in the Grand Central Terminal Centennial celebration in the business portion of our meeting, but it’s interesting that while all of the visible preparations and celebrations are going on, there’s behind the scenes work underway to keep the Terminal functioning in top form.  Metro-North recently announced upgrades to its heating and cooling equipment that will cut Grand Central Terminal energy consumption by 30 percent and save an estimated $3 million per year.

The upfront costs of new energy-efficient equipment will be borne by the New York Power Authority and repaid annually over about 11 years by Metro-North with the money it saves from reduced energy use.  The project began last month and will be completed by the end of 2013.  These upgrades are on top of $1.5 million in energy efficiency improvements to Grand Central in the last year, including escalator controllers that save 25 to 40 percent in electricity and 2,600 new energy efficient lighting fixtures.

I’m sure that Jim will cover performance in greater detail in his Board report, but it’s worth noting that April, Metro-North continued its strong showing, with on-time performance (OTP) for the year standing at 98.7 percent system-wide, .3 percentage points better than the previous record OTP for the first four months of the year and .7 percentage points better than the ambitious OTP goal that Metro-North set in its Vision 2013 process.

Finally, please mark your calendars for the Metro-North President’s Forum for June 13 from 5:00 to 7:00 pm.  The President’s Forums are always good opportunities to hear from both Metro-North management riders, and they have an impact, as issues raised at President’s Forums spark solutions and service improvements going forward.  I hope that each of our members can be on hand.