Home Asides Williams out, Nowakowski in atop LIRR

Williams out, Nowakowski in atop LIRR

by Benjamin Kabak

With a potential strike looming and plans for substitute bus service starting to roll forward, the Long Island Rail Road has a new president. In a surprising announcement that came after the MTA Board voted today to issue an RFP for substitute bus service in the event of a strike this summer, MTA Chairman and CEO Tom Prendergast announced that Patrick A. Nowakowski would take over as head of the LIRR from Helena Williams. It’s not clear why Williams is leaving, but her departure now leaves the MTA with no female agency presidents.

Nowakowski, who was educated at the University of Delaware and Drexel’s business school, comes to the LIRR after spending five years as Executive Director of the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project, more commonly known as the WMATA’s Silver Line. He spent 27 years prior to that working in various roles with SEPTA, and departs DC as questions and ambiguities surrounding the revenue service date for the Silver Line have started to mount.

“Pat Nowakowski is a railroad expert with a rare mix of skills and a long career of accomplishments, and I am pleased to welcome him to the Long Island Rail Road,” Prendergast said in a statement. “Our customers have high expectations for safe and reliable service, and events last year throughout the MTA family have shown why we must always stay focused on the basics of how best to provide that service.”

Meanwhile, the MTA offered no indication as to the circumstances surrounding Williams’ departure, but it’s likely that looming labor unrest played no small role in the move. Williams had served as LIRR head for seven years and spent a few months as the MTA’s interim Executive Director and CEO in 2009 following Lee Sander’s resignation. She was the first female to head an MTA agency and the first female LIRR president.

You may also like


SEAN April 30, 2014 - 4:56 pm

The timing of this semes quite odd – Helena Williams must smell blood in the labor waters & is making a quick exit before the you know what hits the fan.

Patrick O'Hara April 30, 2014 - 5:18 pm

From what I have heard, Ms. Williams’ departure was not of her own volition. From what I have heard, MTA Police escorted here from Jamaica station earlier this afternoon.

SEAN April 30, 2014 - 8:15 pm

That’s not reasuring if that is the way things went down. It is a microcosm of what mess the LIRR really is & how the LIRR must be absorbed into Metro-North removing unessessary layers of management.

sonicboy678 April 30, 2014 - 9:59 pm

That…really doesn’t make sense. Both LIRR and Metro-North serve considerably different markets in considerably different areas with considerably different equipment that is hardly interchangeable. They’re not like MTA Bus and MTA New York City Bus, which typically serve common groups in common areas and have direct connections to each other with completely interchangeable equipment. While A Division and B Division cars are different, they have similar specifications and have some equipment in common (similar parts built from common companies plus standard gauge accompanied by identical third rail); also, C Division (maintenance and construction) equipment can take from either division or be built to certain specifications to be used throughout the entire subway system.

Nathanael May 1, 2014 - 8:15 am

LIRR and Metro-North equipment is largely interchangeable, except for electrical system pickup. It’s actually being jointly ordered.

They’re both under the same regulatory agency, and they both have the same regulatory issues.

There’s no reason in the world for them to be separate, except that Nassau County thinks it’s special.

Bolwerk May 1, 2014 - 9:19 am

Another case, like PATH and NYCTA, where it just shouldn’t matter. If they’re one agency, fine. If they’re separate agencies capable of sharing resources when it benefits them, also fine. They’re both similar enough and different enough where either can make perfect sense.

Patrick O'Hara May 1, 2014 - 9:21 am

That’s not very true, the current equipment is not interchangeable at all… Despite the M7/M3 and M7A/M3A’s having different ways of collecting power from the third rail (which cannot be fixed without substantial reworking of the trucks), they also have significantly different cab signal systems, CTC/CSS systems, Metro-North M7A’s don’t have lit numberboards, so they cannot be the leading unit on LIRR territory as they still make use of towers, the low platform traps on the Shoreliner coaches run into clearance issues in a couple interlockings with the LIRR’s over-running third rail, the P32’s cannot run in electric mode (while drawing traction power) for more than 10 or so minutes, and the LIRR’s Dual Mode service involves most westbound trains to be in electric mode for about 40 minutes before going into the tunnels, which would superheat components of the P32’s.

Other than the word “MTA” in front of their names, there basically isn’t a single thing in common between the two railroads, so why join two things that have basically nothing in common?

Metro-North has its own problems too… And if you think this union strife is unique to the LIRR, boy, wait until you see what’s going to go down at Metro-North this fall…

Rob May 1, 2014 - 3:21 pm

“why join two things that have basically nothing in common?” Even if you dispute the assertion that they have almost everything in common, just note that the hundreds of Class I RRs would never have merged into a handful had your way of thinking been at all accepted.

sonicboy678 May 1, 2014 - 3:57 pm

Just because it works in some instances doesn’t mean it works in all instances. If equipment differences and regional differences vary too greatly, it would be better to keep them separate. Sure, merging railroad systems were able to work for Amtrak; the agency is designed to cover national rail. LIRR is designed to cover Long Island; MNR is designed to cover upstate NY, the Bronx, and, under contract, Connecticut. The subway is designed to connect people to various parts of New York City, complemented by an expansive bus system used to cover areas not already covered by the subway or to act as supplements in already-covered areas.

Alon Levy May 1, 2014 - 6:03 pm

Through-ticketing, timed transfers at a Sunnyside Junction station if Penn Station access opens, crew sharing… when you think about it right, there’s a lot more in common to the LIRR and Metro-North than to the subways and buses.

johndmuller May 1, 2014 - 9:33 pm

It doesn’t have to be a shotgun wedding; it can be a long engagement instead.

I’m sure that each railroad has a good supply of workers who are exemplifying the Peter Principle. Select a supply of these people and promote them into the “Joint Task Force on Railroad Standardization”, where they can try to develop some commonality between the RR’s.

The task force is required to propose some number of concrete proposals (say 5 or 10) per year to eliminate conflicting rules or other divergencies. Some of these may get enacted, and no matter how inconsequential they may seem, you’ve started the ball rolling on merging the two RR’s. (Even if nothing comes of the task force recommendations, there would be the benefit of purging some of the dead wood in the main organizations.)

While you’re at it, invite NJT to participate also; you never know.

Nathanael May 4, 2014 - 2:40 am

Patrick, those are trivial differences.

Nathanael May 4, 2014 - 2:41 am

Put another way: those differences are smaller than the Hudson Line / New Haven Line differences, and much smaller than the East of Hudson / West of Hudson differences — all of which are contained within Metro-North.

Michael Noda May 1, 2014 - 10:27 am

That’s hardly fair to Nassau County, singling them out like that. Sure, they think that everything east of Jamaica is a Special Snowflake, but that pales in comparison to how unique and exceptional Metro North perceives itself to be.

SEAN May 2, 2014 - 8:52 pm

How is that exactly?

Nathanael May 1, 2014 - 8:17 am

Oh my. It sounds like there’s a story here. I’m reserving judgment until we hear the story.

Chris C April 30, 2014 - 4:58 pm

Given some of the comments I’ve read about the construction of the Silver Line in the Washington Post re the delays, budget and problems with the contractors (including them installing the wrong type of speakers and cables and the contractor using the same components in testing the train control systems) is this a wise choice?

It was announced a few weeks ago that he was leaving but it wasn’t revealed where he was going too.

Christopher April 30, 2014 - 7:33 pm

Part of the problem that the Silver Line has in terms of construction (besides all to normal delays) is that the line is not being built by WMATA. It’s being built by a Virginia agency that split off from the airport authority to WMATA specifications and then will be turned over the WMATA to run. That is partly because this is all NoVa’s baby (and reflected by the fact that WMATA has no plan or funding to increase rail capacity for those Silver Line trains that have to make their way into DC.)

It’s fundamentally a mess with WMATA almost completely outside of any control. The Dulles group not only had to figure out how to build the line (without previous experience building to WMATA requirements) but also had to figure out what those requirements were. It was doomed to be a mess.

Alon Levy April 30, 2014 - 10:38 pm

Nowakowski, who was educated at the University of Delaware and Drexel’s business school, comes to the LIRR after spending five years as Executive Director of the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project, more commonly known as the WMATA’s Silver Line.

Thought number 1: God help us all.

Thought number 2: importing the Silver Line disaster would still be a vast improvement over the LIRR’s capital projects.

Epson45 April 30, 2014 - 11:25 pm

Plus, he is anti-Union back he held a management position at SEPTA. What a great hire! Enjoy summer hell in Long Island!

Nathanael May 1, 2014 - 8:18 am

Given the LIRR unions’ behavior — lots of archaic work rules from hell allowing for pay-for-no-work — anti-union may not be a bad thing here.

Bolwerk May 1, 2014 - 9:13 am

Labor battles just squander time and resources. NYS needs to step in and control the situation, passing a law putting LIRR and MNRR compensation and rules in parity with NYCTA where possible. MTA management and the union alike would have fuck-all to say about it.

The current situation isn’t even fair to LIRR workers who want to actually meritoriously do their jobs.

Larry Littlefield May 1, 2014 - 1:54 pm

“NYS needs to step in and control the situation, passing a law putting LIRR and MNRR compensation and rules in parity with NYCTA where possible.”

You can’t order the LIRR to accept the same deal as the TWU. And if you did, what would you do when suddenly lost of transets were destroyed or derailed and passengers killed? This isn’t a regular labor dispute, and not a real union.

Bolwerk May 1, 2014 - 3:21 pm

You can’t force them to stay employed at the LIRR either, but the state can make problematic contract provisions illegal. I’m not sure to what extent that is possible given FRA regulations though. They perhaps have way more control over the TWU.

Larry Littlefield May 1, 2014 - 6:27 pm

Who controls the state? The average state legislator spends their time figuring out ways for their crowd to take more out and leave as little as possible behind when they are gone. People riding buses and trains are serfs to them.

Bolwerk May 1, 2014 - 6:32 pm

Saying they don’t want to is entirely different than saying they can’t.

A big part of the problem is people keep falling for the blame-the-MTA trap. Politicians do it, and everyone else does it. But politicians actually have authority over the MTA, so they are in fact the ones to blame.

Spendmor Wastemor May 1, 2014 - 8:45 pm

1. Train some of the National Guard to be emergency bus/train/subway operators.
2. Let LIRR strike, decertify union.
3. See #1.

Then, hire replacements at the some generous base wage, full health benefits, no $100K just for getting older escalator, no union and no union work rules. Everyone gets a year-end bonus if the RR runs right. Experienced crew with aptitude get offered management jobs.

Nathanael May 4, 2014 - 2:44 am

“NYS needs to step in and control the situation, passing a law putting LIRR and MNRR compensation and rules in parity with NYCTA where possible. ”

LIRR and MNRR are *federally* regulated, which means this would be a labor fight.

There’s no avoiding the labor fight.

Even if the *US Congress* stepped in and passed a law specially to force the LIRR featherbedders to behave themselves, you could expect the featherbedders to strike.

Nathanael May 4, 2014 - 2:44 am

“The current situation isn’t even fair to LIRR workers who want to actually meritoriously do their jobs.”

Certainly true.

Rob May 1, 2014 - 3:17 pm

“…MTA with no female agency presidents.” So apparently we can’t escape the endemic race and sex bean counting even here.

Spendmor Wastemor May 1, 2014 - 8:50 pm

Only results matter, and the only result that matters is placing members of any group other than white males in plum jobs.

Oddly, there are no protests of women demanding high paying work as coal miners, steelworkers, road crew or tunnel rats. That’s your job, sucka.

Bolwerk May 1, 2014 - 10:21 pm Reply
BenW May 2, 2014 - 11:07 am

It’s so nice of you guys to stop by and illustrate why we still need to pay attention to sex discrimination issues in public life and the workplace!


Leave a Comment