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Meeting Minutes Oct 8, 2009

A meeting of the Long Island Rail Road Commuter’s Council (LIRRCC) was convened at 4:30 p.m. on October 8, 2009 in the 5th floor Conference Room, Jamaica Control Center Building, Jamaica, New York.

The following members were present:

Gerard P. Bringmann
Ira R. Greenberg
Sheila Carpenter
Matthew Kessler
Owen Costello
James L. McGovern
Mark Epstein
Maureen Michaels
The following member was absent:

Ronald Breuer
In addition, the following persons were present:

William Henderson -PCAC Executive Director
Jan Wells  -PCAC Associate Director
Ellyn Shannon  -PCAC Transportation Planner
Rod Brooks  -LIRR
Jim Coumatos  -LIRR
Michael Gelormino -LIRR
Holli Dunayer  -LIRR
Approval of Agenda and Minutes

The agenda for the October 8, 2009 meeting was approved and the minutes of the August 13, 2009 meeting were approved as amended.

Chair’s Report

The Chair’s Report is attached to these minutes.  Maureen Michaels summarized the written version of the report.

The members discussed the broken rail incident.  There was agreement about the fact that the alerts were very inconsistent in that riders were advised of delays lasting 20 minutes by train crews at the same time that the email alert system was announcing 40 minute delays.

Board Report

Ira Greenberg said that at the September MTA Long Island Committee meeting, he expressed concern about the Third Track project, which was not included in the Capital Program.  He said that the Rail Road has plans to continue the Environmental Impact Statement process, but only after a period where it will be suspended.  Mr. Greenberg noted that the report on the diesel fleet presented to Committee was sent to the LIRRCC members under separate cover.

In response to Jim McGovern’s question as to the current composition of the Long Island Committee, Mr. Greenberg said that other than David Mack, resigned from the Board, the composition of the Committee is unchanged.  He said that Mitch Pally chaired the September Committee meeting.

Matthew Kessler noted that Sustainable Long Island is holding a session of its Breakfast Series dealing with redevelopment of train station.  Staff will check into the meeting.

Introduction of Rod Brooks, LIRR Chief Transportation Officer, Michael Gelormino, LIRR Chief Mechanical Officer, and Jim Coumatos, LIRR Assistant General Manager – Station Operations to discuss maintenance issues.

Mr. Brooks announced that the Transportation Department is merging with Passenger Services and will now be known as Transportation Services.  Jim Coumatos noted that they will handle all of the services that directly impact the customer, both on and off board.

Owen Costello said he has three issues to discuss regarding the Port Washington branch: 1) Trash generated by LIRR maintenance operations – Mr. Costello said that used roadbed ties are left on the side of the tracks and mops and buckets had been left on the sides of the tracks.  He said the mops and buckets were gone once he spoke to Holli Dunayer.      2) LIRR car cleaning – Mr. Costello said that trash was being dumped on the tracks by car cleaning crews, but this is no longer being done. 3) Pigeons—Mr. Costello said the pigeon excrement is being tracked into train cars and commuter’s automobiles.  He noted the spikes do not deter the pigeons nor does the netting that has been installed work because it is inevitably cut.  Mr. Costello said that the pigeons nest right on the platforms and return even after the platform has been steam cleaned.

Maureen Michaels noted that the real problem is the trash that is all along the right-of-way and that she first raised this issue when Helena Williams was first appointed LIRR President.

Gerard Bringmann said the Cash for Trash publicity does not correspond with reality.  He said that the Rail Road publicizes its success in raising money through the sale of scrap material, but these efforts do not seem to make much of a dent in the problem of debris along the tracks.

Ms. Michaels asked who is responsible for maintaining the cleanliness of the right-of-way.   Mr. Brooks said that the Engineering Department is responsible for the right-of-way, but that for many years, cleanup after a project was not included in the scope of the work.  He said they now have been instructed to include cleanup of both the waste generated by the present project and the accumulated debris of the past in the scope of projects going forward.  Mr. Brooks said that Brian Finn, who was the Chief Engineer, has just retired and that a replacement has not been named.

Mr. Greenberg asked about the pigeon issue.  Mr. Coumatos said there is purchase order out for installing additional netting.  He said that there are animal rights activists who pull down the netting because the pigeons get trapped in the areas that have been enclosed by nets.  He said that he will give Ms. Dunayer a list of things that have been done to address the pigeon problem and that she will forward it to the Council.

In response to Ms. Michaels question about the oversight that is in place for the restroom cleaners, Mr. Coumatos said that at Penn Station the cleaners are contracted workers and a Terminal Manager is on site.  He said there are multiple inspections per day and the Manager is in constant contact with Fedcap, the cleaning contractor.

Ms. Shannon asked if the cleaning performance is graded.

Ms. Carpenter said there previously was a full time person in the ladies restroom at Penn Station, but that person has apparently been given other duties outside the restroom and now is not on duty on the restroom at all times.

Mr. Coumatos said that conditions will be better when two full ladies restrooms are open, which is scheduled to occur on November 1.  He said that staffing for the expanded facilities is now under review.

Ms. Michaels said the jet hand dryers are spreading water down the walls, which in turn causes discoloration of the tile surface.

Mr. Bringmann asked if the LIRR had considered putting in hand sanitizers instead of providing running water.  Mr. Coumatos said that they have found that people like soap and water.  He said that a major problem is that equipment that is installed sometimes only lasts 24 hours before it is lost to theft and vandalism.  He said the MTA Police and the Rail Road’s security people would like to see the restrooms at Jamaica Station closed, but the LIRR feels that they have to provide this service to their customers.

In response to Mark Epstein’s question about the LIRR lost and found system and whether there is a way of tracking something that was left on a train that went to the yard, Mr. Coumatos said that if something is left at a station and is found, it can be returned directly to the owner without being sent to the central lost and found repository.  He said that customers are now being referred to the MTA website, where they can enter a description of a lost item.  Confirmation numbers for these claims are issued within 24 hours.  On the other end, a train crew member finding an item turns it in at the office or any ticket window or places it in a designated drop box.  From there, it takes from 3 to 5 days to be sent to the Lost and Found office at Penn Station.  When there is a probable match between a recovered item and a customer’s claim, the customer is called in to view the item.  The new system has increased the return rate for items reported missing from 33 to 53 percent.

Mr. Epstein said that customers are not being told of this process and have been given inaccurate information by Rail Road personnel.  Ms. Michaels said that the Rail Road needs to do an educational campaign about informing people about how to contact the Lost and Found service.

Mr. Bringmann reported that he was on a diesel that was having problems.  It limped from Green River to Babylon, where the crew informed the riders that they had to turn off the automatic speed control and would be running to Penn Station at reduced speed the entire way.  Mr. Bringmann said that knowing this information made it possible for him to transfer to another train and be 30 minutes rather than 60 minutes late.

Mr. Gelormino said they identified the specific problem on that train and it involved a failure of the automatic speed control feature.  Four specific problems have been identified with this system and the equipment vendor said that modifications to eliminate these issues will be done by the end of the year and as a result problems with automatic speed control will almost completely disappear.  He said incremental progress is being made with high end power and traction problems on the diesel equipment and that many of the remaining problems involve the C-3 coach doors.

Mr. Gelormino said that Tim Marriott has been appointed General Manager of the diesel fleet in an effort to focus more attention on the problems of the diesel equipment.  Ms. Michaels asked whether Mr. Gelormino could return in several months to discuss diesel fleet issues in greater depth.

Old Business

No Old Business was discussed.

New Business

No New Business was discussed.


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

Respectfully submitted,

Karyl Berger
PCAC Research Associate

Long Island Rail Road Commuters Council
Chair’s Report
October 8, 2009

I would like to welcome our new representative from the Borough of Brooklyn Matthew Kessler.  At the start of the meeting, we’ll take a few minutes to introduce ourselves and allow Mr. Kessler to say a few words.  Although he’s been attending our meetings for several months, I’m glad to say that we now officially have a Brooklyn representative to the Council.  We currently have another potential member from Nassau County under review by the Governor’s Appointments Office and I was informed yesterday that County Executive Suozzi will be making another recommendation next week.  Once these final appointments are made, we should have a fully-seated council for the first time in seven years.

As you are all aware, Jay Walder was confirmed last month by the New York State Senate as the new MTA Chairman/Chief Executive Officer.  He officially started work this past Monday.

On Friday, September 9, we had a meeting with Helena Williams and members of her staff to discuss concerns about the LIRR portion of the proposed 2010–2014 MTA Capital Program that I raised in a letter to Ms. Williams.  The meeting was also attended by MTA Deputy Executive Director Linda Kleinbaum, who is responsible for compiling the MTA’s overall Capital Program, as well as other LIRR staff.  As a result of this meeting and subsequent discussions with the MTA, we were able to effect some substantive improvements to the LIRR portion of the Capital Program, but the LIRR plans and priority for the Main Line Corridor project are still inadequate.

The places where we had the greatest impact included:

1. State of Good Repair: Throughout the document the LIRR stated that all asset categories were in a state of good repair except “line structures”.  As we have been working actively on the diesel fleet issues, it was clear the “rolling stock” asset was not truly in a state of good repair, given that the 46 LIRR locomotives are performing at less than 50 percent of their reliability goal.  It was also clear by anyone going to the East New York station, which looks like a bombed out shelter, that the “stations” category is also not in a state of good repair.  In view of these observations, we were concerned that other asset categories about which we are less familiar are also not truly in a state of good repair.  We brought this to the attention of the MTA, who agreed with our concern and removed much of the terminology regarding state of good repair from the plan.  Instead the MTA chose to include the following explanation:

“The MTA is now re-evaluating the program’s characterization of State of Good Repair to more accurately describe the condition of the asset base.”

2. Parking:  In the August draft of the Capital Program, the LIRR requested $65 million for “the development and expansion of commuter parking through the construction of a multistory parking garage” with very little information about the project.  In light of the need to prepare for the anticipated new ridership generated by the completion of East Side Access, the LIRRCC has for over eight years been asking the LIRR to create a fully developed parking strategy.

PCAC staff was able to work with the MTA, who supported our concerns and agreed to add a paragraph to the section indicating that the LIRR:

• will work in conjunction with MTA’s TOD team to identify the location for the new parking garage.
• will base the location for the new parking garage on the ability of its investment to best coordinate with local land use initiatives supporting transit oriented development and to provide the greatest leverage of other public and private investments.
• will devote a small portion of the parking funding to competitive planning grants for qualified municipalities wishing to undertake comprehensive station area/downtown planning and zoning studies.  The aim of this grantmaking is to improve and coordinate the local land use process with LIRR parking and intermodal investments.
• will apply a portion of these funds to station area planning aimed at improving access through improved intermodal connections, “kiss and ride” areas, and pedestrian/cycling facilities, in addition to the parking structure itself.

We believe that this is the start to a more comprehensive approach to parking and improving access to the LIRR stations.

3. Main Line Corridor Improvements Project   We had extensive discussions with Helena Williams and her staff regarding our concern that the LIRR plans to suspend the project’s environmental review process and not move forward on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) during the upcoming Capital Program.  While we did not make much headway with the LIRR on this issue, we also discussed the matter extensively with MTA Board member Mitch Pally.  At the behest of Mr. Pally the following sentence was added to the proposed Capital Program:

“The LIRR anticipates undertaking a revised Main Line Corridor environmental review process in the soonest possible timeframe, but no later than the 2015-2019 Capital Program.”

Ira, staff, and I continue to raise concerns regarding this project with the new leadership of the MTA and have requested MTA Director of Planning William Wheeler review the LIRR’s strategy with regard to advancing the project with the FTA.  We would like Mr. Wheeler’s opinion whether this is the most promising strategy for the timely development of a Main Line third track.

David Mack resigned from the MTA Board September 11, following his refusal to answer questions in an investigation of political influence on the State Police.  Mr. Mack’s seat on the Board is filled by a candidate recommended by the Nassau County Executive.  No replacement for Mr. Mack has yet been announced.

We have again received emails from Katherine Liepe-Levinson about noise on the LIRR; her concerns were reflected in email exchanges that you should have seen early this month.  The Levinsons are objecting to the volume of the tone that signals the closing of M7 car doors.  Staff is looking into the matter and investigating possible resolutions.

On October 1 many of us experienced the service delays from the broken rail on the Main Line Corridor.  This incident is a prime example of one of the reasons that the Main Line Third Track is so critical to the LIRR.

And as Holli Dunayer was made aware by us earlier this week, the LIRR service alerts delivered by email and text were not being delivered to riders for what appears to be several days.  I’m hoping the LIRR can give us some insight into how that did not get caught on their end and what steps will be taken to insure that someone at the Rail Road is monitoring.