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Meeting Minutes Nov 10, 2010

A meeting of the Metro-North Railroad Commuter Council (MNRCC) was convened at 4:30 PM on Wednesday, November 10, 2010, in the 5th floor Board Room, MTA Headquarters, 347 Madison Avenue, New York City.  The following members were present:

• James Blair
• David Buchwald
• Rhonda Herman
• Randy Glucksman

The following members were absent:

• Francis T. Corcoran
• Richard Cataggio
• Neal Zuckerman

In addition, the following persons were present:

• William Henderson  -PCAC Executive Director
• Jan Wells   -PCAC Associate Director
• Ellyn Shannon   -PCAC Transportation Planner
• Karyl Berger   -Research Associate
• Robert Lieblong   -MNR
• David Treasure   -MNR
• Bernadette Cicchesi  -MNR
• Rodney Chabot   -Concerned citizen

Approval of Agenda and Minutes

The agenda for the November 10, 2010 meeting was approved.  The minutes of the July 15, 2010 meeting were approved.

Chair’s Report

The Chair’s Report is attached to these minutes.

Board Report

Jim Blair summarized the written report that is attached to these minutes.

The members briefly discussed the outcome of the November election results.  David Buchwald noted the possibility of a Republican majority in the NYS Senate, with Craig Johnson appearing likely to lose his seat to Mayor Jack Martins of Mineola.  It was noted that, along with changing the balance of power in the Senate, the outcome of this race would mean a new Senate majority member of the MTA Capital Program Review Board (CPRB), who is one of four individuals with the power to veto the MTA Capital Program.

Bill Henderson said that he has heard that the new majority Senate CPRB member would be Charles Fuschillo, but this is certainly not final.  With the emotional nature of the Main Line Third Track debate, one could even make the case for Jack Martins, assuming that he is elected, to assume the CPRB seat.  Senator Fuschillo represents a district on the South Shore of Long Island that is mainly in Nassau County, but crosses into Suffolk County.  Mr. Henderson said that Senator Fuschillo’s reputation is that of a fiscal conservative.  Mr. Buchwald suggested that the MNRCC work with the LIRRCC to reach out to these individuals, especially if one of them joins the CPRB.

Mr. Blair said that it is stunning to him to hear of media accounts stating that the Senate leadership may not be resolved until into the spring.

The members also discussed the pending fare increase.   Mr. Blair reported that Metro-North ridership levels have been strong in the past few months, and he is hopeful the employment picture is getting better.

Mr. Blair reported that the prices of alcoholic beverages sold by the MTA’s commuter railroads have been increased at a rate greater than overall price inflation due to supplier price increases that outpaced inflation.   He also reported that the MTA Board had approved proceeding with a study to be performed by Booz Allen that was needed to modernize the MTA Police radio system to meet federal mandates.

Old Business

No Old Business was discussed.

New Business

No New Business was discussed.

Introduction of Robert Lieblong, MNR Senior Vice President – Operations to discuss operational issues on the Railroad.

Mr. Lieblong noted that he has been at the Railroad for 38 years, as he joined Metro-North in 1973.  He began his career as a trackman and, last year when George Walker retired, was promoted to Senior Vice President – Operations.  He said he believes that MNR is the best railroad in the country.

Mr. Lieblong reported that on time performance through October is 97.8 percent and as of November 10, the railroad has reported seven 100 percent on-time performance days this year.  He noted that Mean Distance Between Failures (MDBF) for rolling stock stands at 140,000 miles, which is above the goal of 115,000 miles.  He explained that, except for the P32 locomotives and M4 cars, all other cars and locomotives achieved their respective MDBF goals.

Mr. Lieblong noted that at this time of year many trains have problems with slip slide due to wet leaves on the tracks, but he said this year there have been relatively few problems compared to 2006, which was a terrible year.  He said that in 2006 there were 432 incidents of flat wheels.

Mr. Lieblong said the M7 software has performed well, but there were other fixes that came from the Low Adhesion Working Group.  These included changes to operating procedures and the creation a pressure washing car known as “Water World” that cleans the head of the rail.  He indicated that it is hard to determine when slip slide will actually occur.  He reported that this past Monday they had about 50 trains delayed due to slip slide conditions, but the overall total so far this year is less than in years past.

In response to Ellyn Shannon’s question as to when the Water World car was developed, Mr. Lieblong noted that one unit was operational during 2006, another was built after that horrible year, and they are considering building another but don’t have the required equipment to do so.  He said they can’t cover the entire Railroad, but they target places where problems occurred the previous day.  He said there are areas where slip slide tends to occur but by in large, there are no real repeat areas.

Mr. Lieblong said there is a cyclical tree trimming program, which is a way to reduce the leaves that fall on the track, but it is impossible to get rid of all the leaves as they often blow in from other places.

Mr. Lieblong said there is a wheel impact detector located in the Park Avenue tunnel that allows MNR to plan for maintenance issues.  He said this is the first full season that it will be in use.  He said it shows the degree of the wheel flatness, which provides guidance in scheduling rolling stock maintenance. He said two companies make these systems and that Metro-North has tested them.

Mr. Lieblong noted the wheel impact detector housed in the Park Avenue tunnel detects flat wheels, which allows Metro-North to plan for maintenance more efficiently. He said every train has a detectable identification tag with the car number encoded that links individual cars with readings from their wheels.

Mr. Lieblong said a warning goes off on this system when a wheel is just starting to flatten.  He said there are four stages of the flat wheel problem, and in the less severe stages immediate repair may not be necessary.  He noted that the program for detecting flat wheels was brought over from England.  He said this system may be the only one in this country.

Mr. Lieblong said that if a car’s wheels are out of true, it is sent to the Harmon shop or New Haven, where there are tandem truing machines.  He said the Railroad has also built its own scrubbers to address wheel slippage issues on the branch lines.  To address small stretches of track, the scrubber uses a wire brush to clean the top of the rail.  The scrubber that Metro-North built is small enough that it can be loaded on a pickup truck.

Mr. Lieblong discussed some of the issues associated with winter weather.  He said they do lots of preparatory work prior to the beginning of the season.  All of the switches have electric snow heaters on them and they are thermostatically controlled.  The Railroad also uses snow bags on couplers to keep them from freezing.  He said they have outside vendors to clean yards and parking lots.

In response to Ms. Shannon’s question about the switches, Mr. Lieblong said that when there is a big snowfall or winds are strong, the heaters can’t keep up with the freezing of the switches.  He said if a switch is stuck on center, this is particularly undesirable, as they then lose the use of both tracks controlled by the switch.  He said they often pick priority interlockings to maintain when they know a storm is coming. In other cases, they will decide to not use a switch. Once the operating plan is decided upon, Metro-North can then station personnel at selected switches to keep them clear.

In response to Karyl Berger’s question whether Operations has anything to do with the information that is transmitted to the customer via email alerts, Mr. Lieblong said yes, and that Operations’ role includes providing information about the number of delayed trains and the time frame of the delay.  He said if there are delays, a code yellow message is sent out and Customer Service and Operations determine the estimate of the delays.  He said a green code indicates an advisory, yellow indicates there are delays, a red code means there are severe delays, and a blue code means a line is being shut down.

Mr. Lieblong said that the email alerts are now coming from a new customer service group, whereas they had been coming from Corporate Communications until recently.

In response to Mr. Buchwald’s question about the use of heaters to melt the snow and ice on platforms, Mr. Lieblong said they did a pilot of this technology, but because platforms are basically bridges, the heaters can’t generate enough heat to make up for all of the cooling that occurs over the large surface area.

Mr. Lieblong reported there are currently 22 M8 cars on the property, and they are undergoing static, dynamic, and clearance testing.  He said they hope to have one or two trainsets in revenue service by the end of this year.  He noted that if all goes well, three hundred more cars will arrive between the end of 2012 and the middle of 2013.  They also have an option to order 80 more cars above the initial contract, and Mr. Lieblong said he believes they will procure those additional cars.

In response to Ms. Shannon’s question as to how the new M8 train will be rolled out, Mr. Lieblong said he was not sure, but the process will begin the retirement of the M2 fleet.  He said it will be one for one car replacement as the new fleet is put into service.  He said there will be a contract for disposal of the old fleet and said that before they can be disposed of, the cars must be drained and cleaned and all PCBs must be removed.

Mr. Lieblong said the Council would be invited for the inaugural run of the M8 cars.

He said that he would like to see the option for additional M8 cars to be exercised as a means of eliminating the M4 and M6 fleets.  Mr. Lieblong said those two fleets are relatively small, not a big part of the total fleet picture, and unnecessarily increase the complexity of maintaining the overall fleet.

In response to Mr. Blair’s question as to why riders will have to wait so long for the M8s, Mr. Lieblong said that the completion date that he provided is the expected date for the last car to arrive.   Other cars will have been put into service before this time.

Mr. Lieblong said that the 97 percent on time performance figure for the New Haven Line is not bad at all, given that there is so much work being done on the line.  The work is necessary because of the state of the wires along the Line.  Also, there is a need for a number of moveable bridge replacements in Connecticut.  He said that the work should be done by 2015, but that this work creates choke points on New Haven line. Mr. Lieblong said that the line can be down to a single usable track at some times in some locations. He also said they have done some platform and track extensions on the New Caanan Branch to compensate for lower capacity per car in newer equipment.

Ms. Shannon asked about the state of the New Haven railyard projects.  Mr. Lieblong responded that the projects were coming slowly but definitely coming.  He noted the electrification of yard tracks in Bridgeport and the construction of a component changeout shop in New Haven as examples of improvements that were being made to yard and maintenance facilities in Connecticut.

Rodney Chabot asked about the status of the new New Haven electrical substation.  Mr. Lieblong said that it is moving forward.  He said that they were nervous about demands on the system in the winter of 2012-2013, but that they had developed a workaround involving using the power feed intended for a future shop facility to provide power to snow melters.  This should provide a bridge to the time that the substation is in place.

Mr. Buchwald asked about Hudson and Harlem Line and West of Hudson initiatives that Metro-North is undertaking.  Mr. Lieblong said the Harlem line is in good shape.  He said that they were looking at additional interlockings to cut down block size on the Line.  One of these is the CP 109 interlocking, which will be built in Fordham area.  It will be centered between Mott Haven and CP106.

Mr. Lieblong said in terms of the Hudson Line, the Railroad is working with the State on improvements as part of its high speed rail initiative.  This may mean that eventually the reach of the railroad will be expanded as far as Albany.  He also noted the Harmon Shop improvements that are ongoing

Mr. Lieblong said cab signaling on the West of Hudson lines is being installed as part of the effort to implement Positive Train Control.  He said Metro-North’s greatest challenge is putting Positive Train Control in place before the federal government’s deadline and finding the money to fund the project.  Randy Glucksman said that he would like to see additional passing sidings built West of Hudson.

Ms. Shannon asked whether the improvements would boost operating speeds.  Mr. Lieblong responded that one thing that the Railroad is doing is adding signal aspects that will allow maximum speeds to be reduced appropriately for safety, while not dropping them to an unnecessarily low level.


At 6:00 PM the meeting was adjourned.

Respectfully submitted,

Karyl Berger
Research Associate