Dave Sumner, retired Long Island Rail Road executive, dies at 66

Longtime LIRR executive Dave Sumner, 65, of Smithtown, Longtime LIRR executive Dave Sumner, 65, of Smithtown, who oversaw such notable projects as supervising Penn Station and developing timetables for LIRR trains, died after a long illness.

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Dave Sumner, a retired Long Island Rail Road executive who supervised Pennsylvania Station and developed timetables for hundreds of trains on the nation's busiest commuter rail system over a career spanning more than three decades, died Monday at home after a battle with cancer. He was 66.

Sumner, of Smithtown, supervised the LIRR through some of the railroad's most challenging times, including getting passengers out of Manhattan after the attack on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, and evacuating passengers from trains during the 2003 blackout.

"He did whatever was necessary to get the job done, even in the most uncomfortable situations," said Brian Dolan, a former LIRR spokesman who worked with him for years.

Born in Beaver Falls, Pa., Sumner started his railroad career as a locomotive fireman with the Pennsylvania and Lake Erie Railroad while still in high school. He joined the Penn Central Railroad as a management trainee and was assigned to Burns Harbor, Ind., and later Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan.

He earned a bachelor's degree in economics from Geneva College in Beaver Falls. There, he met his wife, Patty. The couple married in 1970 and settled in Smithtown, where they reared two children.

He joined the Long Island Rail Road in 1973 as an air brake examiner. Sumner held a number of leadership roles with the railroad, including serving as terminal superintendent of Penn Station in 1981, where he ran the operation, overseeing nearly 600 trains a day.

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In the late 1980s, he also was appointed superintendent of crews for the railroad, and in 1993 was appointed superintendent of the Huntington branch, with responsibility for that entire line, Dolan said.

Sumner became general manager for service planning and quality assurance in 1995, and in that post developed all of the LIRR's public timetables and many temporary timetables, such as those necessary for track work.

He developed the emergency plan on Sept. 11, 2001, to bring thousands of stranded commuters home after Penn Station had been closed. And, in 2003, he worked to evacuate trains stuck in the tunnels during the blackout and to restore normal service the next day.

"Dave brought a level head to that process," Dolan said.

In 2002, he was promoted to chief program officer for operations. He retired in 2006.

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His wife said he enjoyed fishing and boating and spending time with his four grandchildren. He also was an avid golfer, she said.

"He will be greatly missed," she said.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by his son, David Sumner of Holbrook; daughter, Amy Griffin of Angier, N.C.; brother, Daniel Sumner of Many, La.; and sister, Mary Sumner of Beaver Falls, Penn.

Visitation is at St. James Funeral Home in St. James Thursday from 7 to 9 p.m. and Friday from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m., with a service at 8 p.m. Friday. The funeral is Saturday at 9:15 a.m. at St. James Funeral Home with burial in St. James Episcopal Cemetery.

Donations in his memory may be made to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, 1275 York Ave., New York, N.Y. 10065.

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