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Helena Williams, LIRR President

January 4, 2008 @ 12:00 am EST


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Helena Williams, newest, and first female President of the LIRR came to LIMBA today to give us an update on her first six months at the throttle of the nation’s busiest commuter railroad.  Drew Scott of News 12 was in attendance and snagged a post-meeting interview.  Ms. Williams has a long career in public service, from positions in New York City Government, Nassau County, and running the Long Island Bus division of the MTA.  Her enthusiasm for the job is evident, and it is an exciting time to be at the LIRR, working on the first expansion of the system in over a hundred years, East Side Access (ESA).  Her approach has focused on three key areas, safety, security, and service reliability.  Her talk today was focused on the third area, reliability.  She said that this was what has arisen most in her interactions with customers.


The two projects that will have the biggest impacts on service reliability will be ESA and the third track on the mainline between Floral Park and Hicksville.  Ms.  Williams is not a career railroader, but her demeanor, carriage, and experience appear to make her the right person for the job at the right time.  For ESA to be a success, supporting projects in the region must also be implemented successfully, and the attempts by her predecessors to move these forward have met with ferocious resistance from those unwilling to shoulder burdens for the greater good.  Her recommendation of Conquering Gotham as a reference bodes well for her prospects in completing the supporting projects.  In presenting these projects, she spoke of sharing benefits and burdens on a bi-county, regional basis.  To put it in a nutshell, ESA brings huge benefits to both counties, but Nassau must bear the burden of Main Line Corridor Improvements ( MLCI – third track ), and Suffolk must bear the burden of a new train storage yard somewhere.  The third supporting project, trackwork in Jamaica, imposes burdens on the existing ridership, having to have things juggled while trackwork takes place within the space and time envelope already owned by the railroad.


Her description of the review process and emphasis on the railroad’s acceptance and integration of community feedback into the plans for MLCI, and a plausible description of road traffic conditions if the supporting projects don’t take place indicate that an understanding of the landscape and a recognition that different sales approach is necessary has arrived in Jamaica station on Track #1.  A quick overview with light detail of some trouble spots and how MLCI can solve them shows an engaged manager with both strategic and tactical skills.  All those skills will be called upon to guide the nation’s busiest railroad, running 728 daily trains with just about 1200 pieces of rolling stock carrying 289,000 customers per day.

Intra-island service was another highlight of her talk, where she described the integrated project to deal with County Road 39 construction.  The LIRR’s shuttle service between Speonk and Montauk was a large, but not the only part, of this effort.  She gave kudos to the East End planners that brought together van and carpooling services from LIRR stations to end destinations, plus communication facilities as a model for future projects.  She emphasized the integration part of the equation, where the LIRR is part of a holistic approach to transportation, and transportation oriented development. 


Once again, we had a lively Q & A session, which covered the prospects for additional shuttle service projects and the Moynihan Station/Farley Post Office project, which prompted a declaration by Ms. Williams that we should have her back for another meeting just to discuss the issues surrounding that particular item.  We look forward to another informative Friday morning visit from Madame President.


Recap and pictures were provided by 

Craig Plunkett
CEDX, UrbanHotspots, Fire Island Wireless