A veteran New York area transit leader Friday was named chief executive of the Metrolink commuter rail service at a challenging time in its efforts to improve safety and increase ridership.
Michael P. DePallo, 58, current director and general manager of a rail subsidiary of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, replaces John Fenton, who unexpectedly left the agency in May to head a Florida-based rail company.
The rail service overseen by DePallo carries more than 250,000 passengers a day between Manhattan and New Jersey, far more than Metrolink's daily ridership.
DePallo will take over a railroad that has been trying to attract more customers, upgrade its operations and improve safety in the aftermath of the deadly Chatsworth crash Sept. 12, 2008, that killed 25 people and injured 135.
Among the key initiatives is a program to deploy safer passenger cars. The agency also is developing a $200-million positive train control system, a sophisticated network to monitor trains and take control of them if necessary to avoid accidents.
"Michael is the right person to lead Metrolink as it continues to build on progress made in recent years. He has a proven record on safety, leadership and has recently overseen his agency's efforts to modernize their fleet of rail cars," said Richard Katz, the rail authority's board chairman. "He is familiar with the complex issues that a commuter rail provider faces."
Metrolink, which has 512 miles of track, serves Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego and Ventura counties. Based on its ridership of more than 42,000 boardings a day, the line is the seventh-largest commuter railroad in the United States.
"Metrolink is clearly one of the premier commuter railroads in the country and leads the nation in technological innovations such as positive train control," DePallo said. "I look forward to the challenge."
The new chief executive will earn $300,000 a year and is scheduled to start work Oct. 15.
DePallo is credited with leading the Port Authority Trans Hudson Corp. to record ridership in 2011 after it plummeted in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He also chairs the security affairs steering committee for the American Public Transportation Assn.
Before working for the port authority's rail operation, DePallo held management positions at some of the largest passenger rail operations in the nation, such as the Bay Area Rapid Transit system, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority in Philadelphia and the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority in Boston.
"Mike DePallo is one of the best public servants I have ever worked with. Not since California took the Dodgers has New York and New Jersey suffered such a loss," said Bill Baroni, deputy executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
Fenton, who was praised for improving the service and safety of the struggling Metrolink system after the Chatsworth tragedy, left the railroad after about 25 months on the job, stunning agency officials.