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Meeting Minutes Nov 13, 2008

A meeting of the Metro-North Railroad Commuter Council (MNRCC) was convened at 4:30 PM on Thursday, November 13, 2008, in the 5th floor Board Room, MTA headquarters, 347 Madison Avenue, New York City. The following members were present:

David Buchwald
James Blair

Gerard Kopera

Douglas McKean

The following members were absent:

Richard Cataggio
Rhonda Herman

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

Brian Tobachnick – Metro North

Terrence McCauley – Metro North

Scott Crosby – Concerned citizen

Dan Biederman – Concerned citizen

Approval of Agenda and Minutes
The agenda for the November 13, 2008 meeting was approved. The minutes of the October 23, 2008 meeting were approved.

Chair’s Report
The Chair’s Report was distributed to the members in attendance. It will be mailed to the members who were not in attendance.

Board Report
The Board Report was distributed to the members in attendance. It will be mailed to the members who were not in attendance.

The members briefly discussed the expansion of parking at the Cortlandt Station.

Old Business
Scott Crosby asked whether the M8 cars that are being produced for Metro-North will have third rail shoes that can have two fingers snapped off of them in order to make them able to operate into Penn Station.

Mr. Crosby stated that he has objections to the use of AEM7 locomotives to push trains and that he will not accept push-pull trains to Secaucus when service is initiated between Connecticut and New Jersey for football games in Giants Stadium. He said that Amtrak does not use AEM7 locomotives to push trains but that New Jersey Transit does. Mr. Kopera asked what action he was seeking. Mr. Crosby said that he wanted to know the service plan for the trains that will be running down the new Haven line to provide access to Giants Stadium during the pilot test of this service.

New Business
The members discussed the status of the MTA’s finances. Members had been given copies of the printed presentation that was distributed at a special meeting of the MTA Finance Committee, and Jim Blair reviewed the handout with the members. Mr. Blair said that the MTA had revised projections of revenues downward and that the issues of decreased traffic over MTA Bridges and Tunnels crossings and dramatic drops in value of pension plan investments had raised special concerns.

David Buchwald asked if the projections for additional government funding contained in the July Financial Plan were too optimistic. Mr. Blair said that in retrospect the estimate of additional funding may have been too high in terms of reasonable expectations, but that the MTA has most often been criticized for underestimating revenues and ending the year with substantial surpluses from these revenues. Bill Henderson said that the requests for additional State and City funding in the July plan were justified by inadequate reimbursement levels for school transportation and paratransit service and not unreasonable in the fiscal climate at that time.

Mr. Blair noted that the currently anticipated toll and fare increases are outlined on page 8 of the handout. He said that it was likely the Board would put forward a large fare increase along with substantial service cuts, but that these actions are likely to be scheduled to take effect in the middle of 2009. This would give time for alternatives solutions to be approved by the State Legislature. Mr. Blair said that tolling the East River bridges is one alternative that has been discussed.

Mr. Henderson noted that the Ravitch Commission proposals likely won’t have as much impact on the 2009 budget as in later years, as a period of time will be required for any proposals to be enacted by the State Legislature and implemented.

Mr. Blair noted that Metro-North proposed savings of $9 million for 2009 and $18 million for 2010 toward closing the budget gap. He said that more has to be done to address the bottom line. He noted that the programs to eliminate the gap in the final budget will be more specific.

Mr. Crosby renewed his discussion of safety issues involving positioning of locomotives. Mr. Henderson said that he would take these issues up with Metro-North operating personnel.

The Council discussed having a special meeting during the first week of December to address new information contained in the MTA Budget and the Ravitch Commission recommendations. Mr. McKean suggested communicating via email in advance of a brief meeting to ratify a Council position. Mr. Kopera said that he had not been receiving messages through the MNRCC’s Google Groups system. Mr. Henderson said that he would send a test message through the Google Groups system and make sure that all members have access to the system. Mr. Buchwald suggested that the Council meet immediately before the PCAC meeting on December 4. It was agreed that the Council would meet on that date at 11:30 a.m.

It was suggested that a reminder email be sent to members one week prior to each MNRCC meeting asking whether they have items that should be addressed at the upcoming meeting. Mr. Henderson said that staff would begin this practice. Mr. Buchwald raised the need for the Council to keep track of its significant accomplishments. Mr. Henderson said that staff would prepare such a system.

At 6:00 PM the meeting was adjourned.

Respectfully submitted,

Karyl Berger

Research Associate

Follow up items for November 13, 2008 meeting:

Ask Metro-North for the service plan for trains running to Giants Stadium.
Chair’s Report
Yesterday, the State Comptroller’s office released the fifth in its series of progress reports on the MTA Capital Security Program. The report again found that the work in the Program continues to experience delays and escalations in cost. While security continues to improve, the report notes that only two security improvements have been completed in this calendar year. A copy of the report was given to you today.

On October 21, the PCAC released its 2007-2008 research report, Welcome Aboard: Accessibility at the MTA. Reporters from the Daily News and NY1 attended the press conference and to date NY1, am New York and Newsday have written supportive articles about the report. The report was also discussed in the Second Avenue Sagas transit blog.

The West of Hudson Regional Transit Access Study, which is being jointly funded by Metro-North and the Port Authority, is moving forward. Last month, you were emailed a link to a community participation questionnaire that the study is using to develop lists of interested persons and groups. While our staff will participate in the study and update us on its progress, I would encourage you to join the study mailing or email list as well.

Bill Henderson attended a meeting of the Friends of Moynihan Station meeting on October 20. Governor Paterson has given the project new life by announcing his focus on its successful completion. The current direction of the project emphasizes its transportation function, which the PCAC has always supported. New wrinkles in the project include:

a proposal to expand the current Penn Station southward by adding three or four additional tracks.
the involvement of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in the project.
and the possible shifting of current Penn Station users with the completion of NJ TRANSIT’s new station under 34th Street and the LIRR’s East Side Access project under Grand Central.
Last Thursday, Jan and Ellyn returned from Rail-Volution 2008, a conference that focuses on the interrelationships between transit and the communities it serves. It was a great opportunity to hear about what other transportation advocacy groups are doing around the Country, and to hear about the current public transportation efforts that are underway in Washington DC. They will make a more complete presentation at the PCAC quarterly meeting, but Jan and Ellyn may wish to say a few words today about their experiences.

Please mark your calendars for the PCAC meeting which will be held on December 4. Our guest will be Len DeSimone, President of the MTA Business Service Center, who will give us a report on the progress that he and his team have made in setting up this new unit.