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Former MTA chief expected to be named head of Metrolink commuter rail

Former head of MTA is top prospect to head the Metrolink commuter railroad

The Metrolink commuter rail system's board of directors on Friday is expected to hire 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, predecessor to the MTA.

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

He could not be reached for comment Thursday, and Metrolink board members declined to discuss Leahy's hiring until after their vote at Friday's meeting.

However, railroad officials as well as local transit and rail organizations have described Leahy as a good fit for Metrolink because of his experience and knowledge of the region's transportation issues and leaders.

Sources say he has agreed to a three-year contract that will pay him a base salary of $330,000 a year and provide a range of benefits, including health insurance, a retirement plan, 38 paid vacation days and use of a Metrolink-owned car.

If hired, Leahy will begin work April 15.

His salary at the MTA was $310,000 a year, plus a housing allowance of $20,000 and 20 days of paid vacation a year.

Though his compensation would be similar to what he was paid at the MTA, Metrolink is a much smaller operation. The railroad, which serves Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego and Ventura counties, has 512 miles of track and a $221.5-million annual budget.

The MTA has a $5.5-billion annual budget and is responsible for road construction, countywide transportation planning and public transit, from buses to subways.

Leahy, who announced his resignation from the MTA in January, would head the commuter railroad at a difficult time.

Metrolink officials have been dealing with slipping ridership, a variety of financial irregularities, an aging fleet of locomotives and customer service issues, 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 concentrated on a $216-million positive train control system that relies on computerized tracking and a digital communications system to prevent train-on-train collisions.

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 federal deadline and to have the collision-avoidance technology on all Metrolink lines by the end of the year.

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