Home Metro-North Ousted after tumultuous times, former NJ Transit official heads to Metro-North

Ousted after tumultuous times, former NJ Transit official heads to Metro-North

by Benjamin Kabak

It’s hard to say which transit agency has had a worse go of it lately. New Jersey Transit had some banner years in 2012 when Hurricane Sandy knocked out hundreds of millions of dollars of rolling stock and followed that up by being unable to cope with greater-than-expected crowds during the 2014 Super Bowl. Meanwhile, Metro-North has been plagued by derailments, collisions and deaths over the past 16 months. It’s not been a good look for either.

So it should come as no surprise then that a New Jersey Transit official who was given the boot, in part, over the agency’s response to Sandy has found a new home at Metro-North. Karen Rouse of The Record had the story:

NJ Transit’s former railroad chief, who was pushed out in March following two tumultuous years that included the flooding of nearly 400 rail cars and locomotives during Superstorm Sandy, has landed a job within New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Kevin O’Connor, the former vice-president of rail at NJ Transit, started April 10 as Metro-North Railroad’s new chief transportation officer, according to Aaron Donovan, spokesman for Metro-North, a division of the MTA that provides rail service in suburban New York and Connecticut…

O’Connor came under intense public scrutiny in 2012 after Superstorm Sandy flooded hundreds of NJ Transit rail cars and locomotives that had been left to sit in low-lying, flood prone rail yards. Documents and emails revealed that NJ Transit did not follow a plan to move the equipment to higher ground, and instead left the rail cars and locomotives in the vulnerable yards in Kearny and Hoboken as Sandy approached. The damage to the equipment was upwards of $120 million.

In February, the Christie Administration shook up NJ Transit, replacing former executive director Jim Weinstein with Ronnie Hakim – herself a onetime former special counsel at the MTA. Hakim dismissed O’Connor and Joyce Gallagher, NJ Transit’s former vice-president for bus operations, within weeks…

Metro-North President Joseph Giulietti, in a written statement, expressed confidence in O’Connor. “I have known Kevin for decades and like many in the railroad industry, I have the utmost respect for his operational skills, his leadership and his management abilities,” said Giuletti, who took leadership of Metro-North in January. “He has 37 years of experience with Amtrak and NJ Transit, both of which are partners with Metro-North, and we will benefit from his long experience.”

O’Connor, according to Rouse, will replace John McNulty, a vice president at Metro-North, who is retiring this year.

Over the past year and a half, we’ve seen O’Connor’s name pop up in the ongoing coverage of New Jersey Transit’s response to Sandy. He repeatedly excused planning that left expensive rolling stock in flood zones and shortly after Sandy, got into a war of words with some of the agency’s critics over NJ Transit’s seemingly inept response to the storm. Yet, transit is incestuous in the northeast, and O’Connor, a few weeks after getting ousted from the Garden State, has landed with New York’s troubled agency. Maybe it’s a fit for both, but it’s certainly reasonable to eye this development skeptically right now.

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John-2 April 16, 2014 - 8:52 am

This could be the commuter railroad version of a sports team that gets a name player at a discount because they either are coming off some suspension, run-in with the law or some major injury. You’d assume Metro North is savvy enough to know after the year they’ve had, making O’Connor a public face of the agency right now wouldn’t be the smartest of ideas, but with 37 years experience, he may have some value as a details guy in a support role (and with Amtrak, NJT experience might be helpful in terms of knowing the volume logistics, as part of the impending effort to extend MN trains into Penn Station when ESA finally opens).

Bolwerk April 16, 2014 - 9:18 am

Well, it’s true that good analysts aren’t always good decisionmakers. But seems a little nuts to select him for a management/leadership role for PR reasons alone.

If they had no other viable choices, all the worse for the state of regional railroads.

Nathanael April 20, 2014 - 10:51 am

I think it’s insane that Metro-North is hiring “the guy who flooded the railroad”.

You don’t need to know much about a railroad to *follow the already-written flood plan*, which is *only a couple of pages long*, but he failed to do it.

Hopefully he’s taken a major pay cut. Getting him at a discount is the only excuse I can think of.

Nathanael April 20, 2014 - 10:53 am

Seriously, is someone *trying* to destroy Metro-North? Metro-North did pretty well in the last flood.

Maybe Cuomo decided that that was unacceptable and said “Hire someone who will make sure we have more destruction in the next flood.”

Larry Littlefield April 16, 2014 - 9:05 am

“Yet, transit is incestuous in the northeast.”

Bottom line: with only four big U.S. railroad companies operating in the U.S, two Canadian companies that extend south, plus Amtrak, there aren’t a lot of people out there who know how to run a railroad.

It’s much easier to hire people who know how to manage and maintain buses.

Where is the nearest railroad engineering program to New York? Do they even have them anymore?

SEAN April 16, 2014 - 9:17 am

It’s much easier to hire people who know how to manage and maintain buses.

But Metro-North won’t be converting into a BRT network despite being a wet dream for some. *sarcasm alert*

Bolwerk April 16, 2014 - 9:48 am

The “buses are easier” trope again? For somebody who complains about government spending, you seem to have a major stiffy for incurring more of it.

There are over 20 class I and class II private railroads in the USA, and several commuter agencies. We may have dumb rules, but probably no lack of technical talent that would be capable of following sane rules.

Nathanael April 20, 2014 - 10:57 am

There are a *lot* of commuter agencies in the US, and a few in Canada. It’s quite possible to hire competent people who have worked at GO Transit, or Metrolink, or Metra, or the commuter-operations contractors Bombardier or Herzog or Veolia. And I’ve probably forgotten some. This is in addition to the seven Class Is (two of whom run commuter services).

Actually, the “Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad”, which just lost the contract to operate the MBTA, probably has a fair number of competent people who are now out of work.

Or they could promote internally! Metro-North did pretty well during Sandy… someone must be a suitable promotion.

Patrick O'Hara April 16, 2014 - 10:27 am

The LIRR went to a bus person to run their railroad a few years ago (Helena Williams was the president of MTA Long Island Bus for several years in the 1990’s). She hasn’t been a total train-wreck at the LIRR, but things could certainly be better.

Be careful what you wish for!

Chris C April 16, 2014 - 11:41 am

Peter Hendy the executive in charge of Transport for London had a bus industry background and that did not stop him from being appointed as Commissioner* in 2006

*Commissioner is equivalent to Chief Executive and not the same as it means in the US. It even had different meanings here in the UK !

SEAN April 16, 2014 - 11:46 am

Helena Williams is the least of the LIRR’s problems, but LI Bus is a total mess especially now that it’s esentially been privatized.

Larry Littlefield April 16, 2014 - 1:25 pm

Here is what I mean. If you want to go to a U.S. university and study railroad engineering, there seems to be only one choice according to Railroad.net:

University of Illinois Railroad Engineering Program – Has railroad engineering courses and hosts industry discussions and research programs. Located in Urbana, Illinois.

There are some four week programs Michigan.

Brian April 17, 2014 - 6:18 am

Penn State offers it as well. Not at the main campus in state college but at one of the branch campuses in Altoona.

ryan 6 train April 17, 2014 - 2:59 pm

Very true. I am actually a PSU Altoona graduate. While I didn’t study rail they did and still do have a program. It’s actually growing as they rightly saw a lack of new talent. Altoona is also famous for the Curve, and was essentially founded by the railroad.

Rob April 16, 2014 - 3:08 pm

MN would have been better off keeping Permut.

JJJ April 16, 2014 - 3:19 pm

How do I sign up for a career where I can fail upwards?

Nyland8 April 19, 2014 - 8:18 am

Become a politician?


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