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Cuomo nominates Thomas Prendergast as MTA chief

Thomas F. Prendergast speaks during an Assembly public

Thomas F. Prendergast speaks during an Assembly public hearing in Manhattan on the MTA's finances and operations. (Jan. 11, 2013) Credit: Rory Glaeseman

Thomas Prendergast, the head of New York City's bus and subway system and a former Long Island Rail Road president, has been handpicked by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to lead the MTA.

Prendergast, 60, of upstate Brewster, will take over as chairman and chief executive of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority pending confirmation from the State Senate.

"Tom Prendergast is a consummate public transit leader who is the ideal candidate to oversee the nation's largest transportation system," Cuomo said Friday in a statement. "Tom has vast experience in infrastructure and transportation, and has spent years managing commuter railroads, as well as New York City's subways and buses."

Prendergast has already been handling day-to-day operations of the MTA since former chairman and CEO Joseph Lhota resigned in December to run for New York City mayor.

"It is an incredible honor to be nominated to lead the largest transportation network in North America and to work with Gov. Cuomo and his administration on the many challenges facing the MTA," Prendergast said. "I look forward to working with the governor, his management team, the MTA board and the 66,000 dedicated employees of the MTA family."

A Chicago native with a systems engineering degree from the University of Illinois, Prendergast joined the New York City Transit Authority in 1982 as assistant director of system safety. He held various MTA management jobs before becoming the 35th president of the LIRR in 1994.

During his six years in that position, Prendergast modernized the LIRR's aging diesel fleet, introduced more durable concrete rail ties and modernized onboard air-conditioning systems.

Former LIRR Commuter Council chairman Larry Silverman said that Prendergast, with his "in your face" management style, has clashed with union workers. In 1995, LIRR train engineers walked off the job because of stalled contract talks.

Despite those concerns, Silverman said Prendergast is "ideally suited for this role . . . He has a very broad knowledge of, obviously, New York City Transit, but also suburban rails and East Side Access."

Current commuter council chairman Mark Epstein hopes Prendergast's prior experience as LIRR president "will keep him open to the concerns of Long Island Rail Road riders."

After leaving the MTA in 2000 and holding various private and public-sector transit jobs, Prendergast returned to the MTA in 2009 to lead New York City Transit.

He oversaw record ridership for the subways and innovations such as platform countdown clocks and the FastTrack program, which calls for overnight suspension of certain subway lines so that crews can more thoroughly perform track maintenance and repairs. Prendergast also led the recovery of the MTA's buses and subways following the devastation from superstorm Sandy in October.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone called Prendergast "a terrific choice for Long Island and for the region." He said Prendergast's understanding of Long Island issues will be valuable as Suffolk looks to expand its transit network.

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano said Prendergast appears qualified for the job and he looks forward to working with him on transportation issues.

State Sen. Charles Fuschillo (R-Merrick) said the Senate Transportation Committee, which he chairs, will carefully review Prendergast's qualifications and record and likely hear testimony from those who have worked with him.

"He certainly has transit experience, which is critically important," Fuschillo said.

Prendergast will remain president of New York City Transit until he is confirmed. No successor to that position has been chosen.

Prendergast's salary as MTA chief has not been announced. Lhota was paid $332,500.

The MTA's new chief

Thomas Prendergast

AGE: 60

HOME: Brewster, Putman County

EDUCATION: Systems engineering degree, University of Illinois

MTA EXPERIENCE: New York City Transit Authority president since 2009; LIRR president, 1994 to 2000. Other MTA positions include systems safety chief, New York City Transit; and senior vice president, Department of Subways.

OTHER EXPERIENCE: Positions with TransLink, Vancouver, B.C., Chicago Transit Authority and U.S. Department of Transportation.

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Oversaw modernization of the LIRR's diesel fleet and train air-conditioning systems; introduced more durable concrete rail ties; oversaw subway and bus innovations, including platform countdown clocks, FastTrack maintenance and repair program, and MTA Bus Time, which provides real-time arrival information.

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