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Minutes: April 2004


(Established in 1985 under Connecticut Public Act 85-239, now Sections 13b-212b and -212c

of the Connecticut General Statutes)







The meeting began at 6:00 p.m. 


Present were:  Chairman Rodney Chabot, Vice Chairman Jim Cameron, Ed Zimmerman, Bob Jelley, and Jeff Marin, Members of the Council; Peter Cannito, President of Metro North Railroad; Gene Colonese, Sherry Herrington, Joe Kanell and George Okvat, Metro North Railroad; Harry Harris, Mike Donnarumma, and James Fox, DOT; Sean McLaughlin, MTA Police; Dick Carpenter, former head of SWERPA, Dick Bond and Scott Crosby, members of the public.


In addition to those listed above, there were people who arrived in the course of the meeting who were planning to attend the public hearing on a fare increase, which immediately followed the Rail Commuter Council meeting at 7:00 p.m.


Because of time constraints, the April meeting of the Rail Commuter Council consisted only of the talk by Peter Cannito, President of Metro North Railroad, and the question and answer period that followed.  All regular business was postponed until the May meeting.


President Cannito began by saying that Metro North had continued to provide good service during 2003, but that it had been a difficult year.  He said that the region’s economy had not bounced back, so that there was no ridership increase to provide additional revenue.  Ridership in 2003 was down 0.8% from the record level of ridership in 2002.  However, that was a better record than the region’s other commuter railroads, SEPTA, Long Island Railroad and New Jersey Transit, all of which had a 3% ridership decline in 2003.  Metro North’s ridership was helped by an increase in reverse commuting during 2003. 


President Cannito stated that both the fall leaf season in 2003 and the 2003-4 winter season had been particularly bad, in terms of weather conditions, but that the railroad had nevertheless maintained a 96.7% on-time record for the entire system.  He reminded people that winter snowstorms had begun in December, 2003 and said that the 2003-4 winter had been the worst winter on record for this region because it was both colder and snowier than most winters.  He said that the combination of 30-year old cars and the type of winter had produced the problems on the New Haven line that everyone remembers.  He went on to say that the entire region had been affected by the weather and that Metro North had outperformed the other three commuter railroads. 


President Cannito went on to talk about the equipment problems in Connecticut.  He said that there were not enough cars on the New Haven line, even if they were all in service, and that they were 30 years old.  He reported that the M-2 rebuild program now has “finished” 46 cars, 20% of the M-2 fleet.  He said this was making a difference.  The two long-lead items, new cab signal systems and new toilets, will arrive in August, and the “finished” cars will be recycled to have that work done.  He went on to say that the decision to do the rebuild program in-house had turned out to be a correct decision, both getting the work started sooner and leading to an earlier completion. 


He said that he was working with Connecticut DOT to get 38 additional cars for the New Haven line.  The addition of new cars on the West-of-Hudson lines will free up some old cars for the East-of-Hudson lines, including the New Haven line, but having additional cars will require additional dual-mode locomotives, which are only manufactured by General Electric.  (Later questioning seemed to indicate that the 38 additional cars being talked about are non-self- propelled cars, which require a locomotive.) 


President Cannito said that there was a critical need for a long-term fleet replacement program for both New York and Connecticut.  He said that the MTA’s capital program for New York for 2005-2009 will include a request for funds for a substantial number of new cars.  The first priority will be adding cars to the present inventory of cars and the second priority will be replacement of the M-2s.  He said that Connecticut will have to do the same thing. 


President Cannito said that the other crucial need was the expansion of Connecticut shop space for maintenance.  He said that the takeover of the Shore Line East facility in New Haven was a step in the right direction, and he hoped that Metro North would be operating that facility by the end of the summer.


President Cannito concluded by saying that even though Metro North had made major improvements in service since taking over the New Haven line in 1983, there were fewer older commuters who rode the line both in 1983 and 2004, so that most commuters don’t have the perspective to see the improvements that have been made.  He said that was probably a good thing, because it keeps Metro North Railroad on its toes.  He said that the relationship with CDOT is excellent. 


Rodney Chabot, Chairman of the Rail Council, asked what the prospect was for expecting all full-length trains.  President Cannito said that on the day of the meeting, there were 65 cars out of service.  He went on to say that even if Metro North gets down to only 15% of cars out of service, there were still not enough cars to meet demand.  


Jim Cameron, Vice Chairman, said that he thought Metro North had done an excellent job during the past winter, given the problems.  He asked if there was any reason to be hopeful about better service during the next two winters.  President Cannito answered that if the next two winters were the same as the last two, there were likely to be the same kind of problems.  He said that the railroad was looking at the systems most susceptible to winter problems to see if there was some way to insulate them from failure.  He went on to say that during this past winter, the railroad had canceled trains rather than running trains that were likely to break down. 


Bob Jelley, Secretary of the Council, asked about the progress of Long Island Railroad access to Grand Central Terminal, and particularly the problem of Lexington Avenue subway crowding with more railroad passengers.  President Cannito said that the Second Avenue subway project, which is going ahead, will eventually relieve the Lexington Avenue line.  He also said that a lot of the people who will use the Long Island Railroad to enter Grand Central Terminal are people who will work in that immediate area, so they won’t need to take the subway. 


Jeff Marin spoke about the Metro North e-mail program to report service delays and wondered whether the system couldn’t be more specific.  President Cannito said that service changes, because of weather or accidents, happen quickly and change quickly, and it is difficult to be more specific than the notifications presently are.  But he said that efforts will be made to refine the system.  He went on to say that if problems arise during the night, it is easier to notify people by e-mail about morning commuting problems, although, because people are in a hurry in the morning, they frequently don’t take the time to check their e-mail.  Problems that arise during the day are more difficult, because the railroad is committed to getting people out of New York and back home, and changes are made more quickly. 


Harry Harris made two points: 


1.         In May, a private firm, Transcon, will be launching a website service ( which will be like AAA trip planning, except it is for public transit.  There will also be a pay service feature which will notify people of certain problems.


2.         There is a new bill in the legislature requiring study of e-mail notification of highway and transit problems.


Peter Cannito said that the information on trips 1, 2, 3 will only be as good as the railroad can produce and the customer should do what they can to find out about the situation. 


Ed Zimmerman asked if the New York money for new cars was already in place.  President Cannito said that it was not.  He implied that there was a reasonable expectation that New York would come up with the necessary money.  He said that new car procurement usually required a 3-year procurement process.  He described two options:  1) a brand new car design; and

2) modification of the M-7 program, which can operate only on third rail, by putting on a pantograph. 


Dick Bond, former first selectman of New Canaan asked how many new cars were expected quickly.  Harry Harris said that the General Assembly wanted 2000 additional seats.  Peter Cannito said that he will try to get 38 cars, even though that provides more than 2000 seats, but that more locomotives will be required.  He went on to say that non-self-propelled cars are easy to maintain. 


Dick Carpenter asked whether New York will certainly come up with the money for new self-propelled cars.  Peter Cannito said that this will be a high priority item for the MTA, and that the MTA has had success with its five year plans in the past.  Dick Carpenter went on to ask whether new cars for the New Haven line will also be able to enter Penn Station.  Peter Cannito said that they will, and they will be able to operate on 60-cycle, 12,000 volt power; 25-cycle, 12,500 volt power; and 60-cycle, 25,000 volt power. 


The meeting ended at 7:00 p.m.


The next meeting will be on May 19th at 7:30 p.m. at SACIA in Stamford (not New Haven, as originally scheduled.)  The June meeting will also be at SACIA in Stamford.




Bob Jelley