Ex-MTA chief is new head of Metrolink, has his work cut out for him

Ex-MTA chief is new head of Metrolink, has his work cut out for him
Art Leahy, left, then-MTA chief executive, in December 2010 with then-Metrolink board Vice Chairman Richard Katz and then-Metrolink CEO John E. Fenton, has been named the new chief executive of Metrolink. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

The Metrolink commuter rail system's board of directors on Friday hired Art Leahy, the former head of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, as the railroad's chief executive officer.

Leahy, 66, is a veteran transit official who ran three transportation agencies after starting his  career as a bus driver for the old Southern California Rapid Transit District, the predecessor to the MTA.


Leahy also headed Metro-Transit in Minneapolis-St. Paul and the Orange County Transportation Authority.

The Metrolink board uanimously approved Leahy's hiring.

"Given Art's leadership at the MTA, along with his previous stewardship of OCTA, he brings a unique perspective of leadership at the highest levels of transportation that will be of tremendous value to Metrolink," said board Chairman Shawn Nelson, an Orange County supervisor.

According to his three-year contract, Leahy's compensation includes a base salary of $330,000 a year and a range of benefits, including health insurance, a retirement plan, 38 paid vacation days and use of a Metrolink-owned car. He will begin work April 15.

"I have witnessed first-hand the incredible diligence of the Metrolink staff," Leahy said. "I'm excited to have the opportunity to further grow and enhance Southern California's six-county rail system."

The commuter line serves Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego and Ventura counties. It has 512 miles of track and a $221.5-million annual budget.

Leahy, who announced his resignation from the MTA in January, joins the commuter railroad at a challenging time.

Metrolink officials have been taking steps to bolster ridership, correct a variety of accounting irregularities, replace an aging fleet of locomotives and solve customer service problems, including faulty ticket-vending machines.

The railroad also has been steadily adding safety measures since the deadly Chatsworth crash in September 2008 that killed 25 and injured 135.

Work has focused on a $216-million positive train control system that relies on computerized tracking and a digital communications system to prevent trains from colliding.

The high-tech safety system has been launched on Metrolink's 91 line, which goes from downtown Los Angeles to Riverside via Orange County, and the San Bernardino line, from Los Angeles to San Bernardino.

Railroad officials have promised to comply with a tight federal deadline and have the collision-avoidance technology on all Metrolink lines by the end of the year.

Leahy replaces Michael P. DePallo, a former transit leader from New York, who stepped down in January after two years as chief executive. Sam Joumblat, the chief financial officer, took over the railroad until a replacement could be found.

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