The untimely firing of Helena Williams as the Long Island Rail Road president presents a loss not only for the railroad and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, but also for Long Island ["LIRR chief's exit worries LI officials," News, May 3].
Williams is a highly respected professional who provided knowledgeable leadership on transportation and economic development initiatives for Long Island. She was a major contributor to "LI 2035," my organization's 25-year sustainability plan.
While MTA Chairman Thomas Prendergast had the authority to replace Williams, his choice of a Washington-area transit official, Patrick Nowakowski, offers little cause for optimism that he will bring any institutional knowledge of the LIRR's history, priorities and challenges.
Williams' departure, added to the recent loss of the former State Senate Transportation Committee chairman, Sen. Charles Fuschillo (R-Merrick), places Long Island in the unenviable position of having little influence over transit planning, capital projects or operational funding. With only two of 15 voting members on the MTA's board of directors, Long Island has never had a strong voice in developing MTA policy or funding priorities. That voice, as soft as it has been, is now further muted. The MTA's message to Long Island has been sent, and it has been received.
John D. Cameron Jr., Rockville Centre
Editor's note: The writer is the chairman of the Long Island Regional Planning Council.
As any LIRR employee or retiree will attest, there was no better news than when the MTA chose Thomas Prendergast as chairman in 2013.
Prendergast, president of the LIRR from 1994-2000, had railroad operational experience and an engineering background. He knows how to motivate employees, understands our union contracts and spends time with commuters and the public.
Prendergast also put safety above all. He launched a committee to review and reduce employee and customer accidents, and during his tenure we won several safety awards for initiatives developed by employees and management. We shared those innovations with our sister agencies and the railroading community.
That Prendergast chose a new LIRR president with equally excellent qualifications should be good news to Long Islanders, commuters and especially to employees. While it was great to have Helena Williams as president, there are now many important operational, financial and contractual decisions to be made, and major projects that need to be managed by someone in the know about transportation infrastructure and project management, especially the East Side Access project.
Laura Smith, Huntington
Editor's note: The writer is a retired director of system safety and assurance for the MTA-LIRR East Side Access project.