Metrolink’s CEO could be moved aside

The head of Metrolink could be moved aside and a new, interim chief executive named to run Southern California’s regional commuter rail service as early as today, The Times has learned.

The agency’s board has scheduled a special, closed-door session to discuss Chief Executive David R. Solow’s position, as well as a new management job being created to oversee a major safety improvement project, records and interviews show.

Details of the potential shake-up remained under wraps, and the board still must take action to proceed.

But it appeared from records and interviews that the new position, reporting to both the new chief executive and the board, would be filled by Solow, who has been under intense pressure since last year’s deadly Chatsworth collision.

The Times reported last month that Solow’s future leadership role with the five-county rail service, which carries about 1 million riders per month, had come into question.

At least one high-profile board member, Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich, said he had lost confidence in Solow’s ability to provide the leadership needed, given the array of financial and safety challenges confronting the agency.

Other board members said Solow appeared overloaded at times by the demands of the job, which intensified substantially after last year’s head-on collision, which left 25 dead and 135 injured.

Some board members also expressed frustration last month over management’s handling of a proposed fare increase, coming just three months after the last ticket price hike in a region battered by recession.

To avoid or minimize the 6% fare boost initially proposed by Solow’s team, the board today will consider cutting dozens of lower ridership trains used by thousands of riders each month.

A Metrolink spokeswoman said Solow would not comment on the closed-door session or possible management changes.

The new executive job -- listed on the agenda as “Advisor: Interagency Initiatives” -- appears designed to maximize what some board members have said are Solow’s strengths. “He’s a great technical person,” board member Art Brown said.

While declining to discuss Solow’s status, Brown noted that the new position would be responsible, among other things, for overseeing deployment of a pioneering, $200-million collision avoidance system -- known as positive train control. Such a braking system could have prevented the Chatsworth crash, officials have said.

Metrolink has committed to an ambitious schedule to have the system up and running in 2012, years before a groundbreaking federal law passed last year would require it for the rest of the nation. “Because PTC is such a priority, they want someone knowledgeable in that position,” Brown said.

If the changes are made, the board is expected to name a temporary chief executive and begin a search for a permanent replacement.