Metrolink board members want to consider hiring outgoing MTA chief

Metrolink board members interested in hiring MTA head to lead the commuter railroad

Board members of the Metrolink commuter rail service are interested in considering the outgoing head of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority as a candidate to become the line's next chief executive.

Arthur T. Leahy, 65, who plans to leave the MTA in April, is a veteran transit official who has run three transportation agencies, including Metro Transit in Minneapolis-St. Paul and the Orange County Transportation Authority.

“I think he would be a perfect fit,” said Richard Katz, a former state legislator with a long history of serving on the MTA and Metrolink boards. “Art is a known quantity. He's exactly what Metrolink needs right now.”

Leahy's name was mentioned at Friday’s board meeting after a closed session to discuss replacing Michael DePallo, who announced his resignation as head of the six-county railroad last month.

The board established a three-member committee to conduct a nationwide search for a chief executive officer. However, several members, including Orange County Supervisor Shawn Nelson, the new chairman, expressed an interest in Leahy.

“I hope Art would apply,” said Keith Millhouse, Ventura County's representative on the board. “He would be a strong candidate with a good working relationship in Southern California.”

Contacted after the meeting, Leahy, who announced his resignation from the MTA on Tuesday, declined to comment.

Metrolink, which has 512 miles of track and a $221.5-million budget, serves Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego and Ventura counties.

In contrast, the MTA has a $5.5-billion annual budget and is responsible for road construction, countywide transportation planning and a variety of public transit, from buses to subways. It also provides $52 million a year to Metrolink, the largest contribution from the counties that support the railroad.

If Leahy is hired, he would head the railroad at a challenging time. Ridership is slipping and Metrolink officials have been dealing with a variety of financial irregularities, an aging fleet of locomotives and customer service issues, including faulty ticket vending machines.

There is some divisiveness on the board about the direction of the railroad, and the leadership is studying options for the line’s governance and management, including proposals to have the MTA or a private contractor operate the system under the control of a joint-powers authority involving the counties it serves.

Metrolink has also had a series of key departures during the last 18 months, including three chief financial officers, the head auditor in November and DePallo this month. Carolyn Cavecche, an Orange County board member, resigned this week.

In addition, the railroad is steadily improving its safety record since the deadly Chatsworth crash in September 2008 that killed 25 and injured 135. Work has concentrated on a $210-million positive train control system that relies on computerized tracking and digital communications system to prevent accidents. The system is now being tested.

“Whoever they choose, that person will need to know the territory,” said Paul Dyson, president of the Rail Passenger Assn. of California and Nevada. “On that point alone Art Leahy would be a good candidate.”

Bart Reed, executive director of the Transit Coalition, an advocate for public transportation, said Leahy knows the transportation leaders and transit agencies in the counties Metrolink serves.

“He has knowledge of all the players and can be an innovator who can end the divisiness on the board and bring financial success to the railroad,” Reed said.

In other action Friday, board members unanimously approved Nelson as the new chairman, ending an effort to prevent representatives from Orange County from serving in that position this year.

The railroad’s chief financial officer, Sam Joumblat, was named interim chief executive. Perris Mayor Daryl Busch and Millhouse, a Ventura County transportation commissioner, were elected vice chairman and second vice chairman respectively.

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Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

Updated

6:42 p.m.: This article has been updated with additional information throughout.

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