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Metrolink chief, under pressure since Chatsworth crash, could be moved aside

December 10, 2009 |  1:49 pm
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 Friday, The Times has learned.
The agency’s board has scheduled a special, closed-door session to discuss CEO 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 CEO 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 boarders 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 at times appeared overloaded by the demands of the job, which intensified substantially after last year’s head-on collision that left 25 people dead and 135 injured.

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

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,” said board member Art Brown.

While declining to discuss Solow’s status, Brown noted 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 last year required it for the rest of the nation. “Because PTC is such a priority, they want someone knowledgeable in that position,” he said.

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

-- Rich Connell

Photo: Glenn Koenig. Credit: Los Angeles Times

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