- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 30, 2014

NEW YORK (AP) - The nation’s largest commuter rail system is turning to a new leader, just as labor turmoil threatens service this summer.

The Long Island Rail Road on Wednesday said Patrick Nowakowski, a veteran of transit systems in Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia, will replace Helena Williams as president effective May 12.

Nowakowski, 60, is the executive director of the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project, which is building a 23-mile rail line to connect the airport with the Washington, D.C., Metro system.

Before that, he spent more than 27 years with the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, the agency that runs commuter rail, subways, buses and trolleys in and around Philadelphia.

Thomas Prendergast, the chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, called Nowakowski a “railroad expert with a rare mix of skills and a long career of accomplishments.”

Nowakowski takes over at a precarious time. Various unions have voted in recent months to authorize strikes after working without a contract since 2010 and President Barack Obama has appointed an emergency board to help resolve the dispute.

Any work stoppage won’t happen before July, at the earliest, and the railroad has adopted contingency plans that could include transporting commuters on buses.

Williams, 58, has led the railroad since 2007, ushering technological advancements and two major infrastructure projects that are in the works: the expansion of service to the east side of Manhattan and the doubling of track capacity on the railroad’s main line.

“I was not expecting this,” Williams told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. “I had a great run. It was a wonderful job. I tell everybody it was really my dream job. It’s one I’m really proud of.”

Williams did not say if she had been given a reason for her dismissal.

Mark Epstein, the chairman of the railroad’s commuter council, issued a statement praising Williams’s efforts to make the railroad “more transparent and responsive.”

The Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project did not return a message requesting an interview with Nowakowski or comment on his move.

A Long Island Rail Road spokesman said Nowakowski will earn the same salary as Williams, $285,000 per year.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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