MTA Metro-North President Catherine Rinaldi has announced that she will transition out of her role as interim President of MTA Long Island Rail Road (LIRR), which she took on in February 2022 upon the retirement of Phillip Eng, who now leads Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.
The announcement came during the Sept. 18 New York MTA Joint LIRR/Metro-North commuter railroad committee meeting. LIRR Senior Vice President of Operations Robert Free, a 32-year LIRR veteran, will assume the role of acting Long Island Rail Road President next month.
Rinaldi will continue to lead Metro-North, a post she’s held since 2018, and provide strategic advice on cross-commuter railroad matters.
Rinaldi, one of Railway Age’s 2021 Women in Rail honorees, said during the meeting that she was “thrilled” to take on the interim presidency at LIRR, but now with a variety of “important accomplishments under our belt, it’s a good time to begin the process of my transitioning out of my role as interim President.”
“[A]s the former General Counsel of the Long Island Rail Road and someone who grew up on Long Island and taking the Long Island Rail Road, [the interim presidency] was an offer I couldn’t refuse and never wanted to refuse,“ Rinaldi said. “It was a critical time for the Long Island Rail Road, with East Side Access in high gear. In collaboration with the project team at [MTA] C&D [Construction & Development], the awesome Long Island Rail Road team worked hard to get the project over the finish line and deliver an historic service increase to our customers. A second historic expansion project came online last fall with the completion of the third track project.
“Third track provided the railroad with much-needed resiliency and flexibility along the main line, unlocking the potential for a reverse commute that had long been sought by the Long Island business community. In addition to these significant milestones for the railroad, I’m pleased to announce to this committee the railroad teams have successfully identified the $100 million in efficiency savings that the Chairman [and CEO of MTA, Janno Lieber,] challenged us to achieve last year. Now, of course, the hard work of delivering all those initiatives begins, but I am confident that the railroad teams will be able to meet our commitments while at the same time continuing to provide the safe and reliable service that our customers expect and deserve … [O]ver the past 18 months, we’ve also accomplished several significant improvements that span both railroads: the launch of the upgraded TrainTime app last year, the expansion of CitiTicket to peak trains last month, and the first-ever combo ticket allowing seamless travel between our two [commuter] railroads. With these important accomplishments under our belt, it’s a good time to begin the process of my transitioning out of my role as interim President at Long Island Rail Road.”
Rinaldi reported that Janno Lieber has “asked my good friend Rob Free to assume the position of acting Long Island Rail Road President. Rob has served the railroad with extraordinary dedication for many years, starting as a cleaner and working his way up to positions of increasing responsibility in the Transportation department, leading to his promotion to Senior Vice President of Operations. Rob has an unsurpassed knowledge of the railroad, its operations, its infrastructure, and its people, and I’m thrilled he will have this opportunity to lead the organization that he has served so faithfully for all these years.
“In the weeks leading up to our October Board meeting, Rob and I will work together to transition responsibilities from me as interim President to Rob as acting President. I will continue as Metro-North President, a position I’ve held for more than six years, if you count the months I served as acting President before assuming the presidency on a permanent basis.
“As you’ve all noticed by now, Metro-North has not missed a beat since I assumed the role as interim President of Long Island Rail Road, providing incredibly reliable service and picking up several awards from APTA [American Public Transportation Association] … While we are on the topic of innovating and improving, that will not stop when I move back over to Metro-North full time. Recognizing the value of having a view of our operations across the [commuter] railroads, Janno has asked that in addition to running Metro-North, I continue to provide strategic advice on cross-railroad matters. There are so many commonalities between the railroads and opportunities for sharing of best practices and procedures. I’m excited to assume this new role, and build on what we have already achieved. I look forward to working with Rob in his new capacity as well as this committee. Again, I’d like to thank Janno for this opportunity and thank the [New York] Governor [Kathy Hochul] for this opportunity.”
Commuters, local elected officials and MTA Board members from Long Island have called for LIRR to have a full-time, dedicated leader and for Rinaldi to step down, according to an amNY report. Among the issues, the news outlet said, was the reconfiguration of LIRR schedules “for the first time in decades” upon the launch of Grand Central Madison. “Those heading into Brooklyn from Long Island could no longer take a direct train and had to make a lengthy transfer at Jamaica to catch a ride to Atlantic Terminal,” amNY reported. “Trains heading to Penn Station experienced major overcrowding even as others arrived at Grand Central nearly empty. Under major pressure from riders, the MTA ultimately added more trains heading into Brooklyn from Jamaica. More recently, this month the LIRR tweaked its schedules again and restored some direct service from Long Island to Brooklyn.”
According to the news outlet, “Lieber, for his part, argued that having one president of both railroads minimized conflicts between the two and centralized accountability, helping push forward major projects integrating the railroads like East Side Access and Penn Access, which is scheduled to open in 2027 and will see Metro-North trains routed to Penn Station and the opening of four new stations in the Bronx.”