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Top Metrolink executive agrees to step down

December 11, 2009 |  3:18 pm
The head of Southern California’s regional commuter rail service was replaced today, in a management shake-up some officials hope will better position the agency to tackle an array of safety and financial challenges in the wake of last year’s Chatsworth disaster.

David R. Solow, the five-county Metrolink agency’s chief executive for more than a decade, was moved to a new position overseeing deployment of a safety system intended to prevent a repeat of last year’s crash, which left 25 dead and 135 injured.

Emerging from a lengthy close-door session today, Metrolink board members also announced the appointment of Eric Haley, former CEO of Riverside County’s transportation agency, as interim chief executive.
Metrolink, which carries about 1 million riders a month, will begin a search for a permanent replacement.

Solow, who joined the agency at its formation in the early 1990s, helped steer the system through a period of steady expansion, with Metrolink priding itself on being the fastest growing commuter rail service in the nation.

But he has come under intense pressure since the Chatsworth crash, which investigators have tentatively blamed on a Metrolink engineer who they say ran a red light seconds after he was text messaging on his cellphone.

Some board members, notably Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich, have suggested Solow has not been a strong enough and visible enough leader, especially in the immediate response to the Chatsworth catastrophe.

Other board members have said Solow seemed overwhelmed at times by the job and the increased demands of dealing with rebuilding public confidence and with declines in ridership and revenue.

In a prepared announcement read by board Chairman Keith Millhouse, the emphasis was on Solow’s expertise in technical matters, and the contributions he can make to ensuring rapid deployment of a $200-million high-tech collision-avoidance system.

With Solow focused on such matters, under a contract that runs at least through June 2010, Metrolink can “usher in the era of dramatic enhancements in rail travel in this region and the country,” Millhouse said.

Solow, in a statement, said he was looking forward to working with Haley. He said he remained dedicated to enhancing safety and implementing new technologies, such as so-called positive train control.

“I am pleased to be able to continue this aspect of the work that I have begun,” he said.

-- Rich Connell