West Islip resident Kevin Tomlinson, the Long Island Rail Road's...

West Islip resident Kevin Tomlinson, the Long Island Rail Road's chief engineer who will retire at the end of the year, stands at the Hillside Support Facility in Queens. (Aug. 16, 2013) Credit: Craig Ruttle

Some old-time railroaders still call Kevin Tomlinson "The Kid."

That's because they remember how Tomlinson started his career at the Long Island Rail Road -- as a teenage intern in the engineering department, holding up a Philadelphia rod at survey sites.

Over the next 31 years, he climbed through the ranks, before being named chief engineer last year. In that post, he led 1,600 employees and oversaw infrastructure repair, maintenance and construction efforts for one of the largest railroads in the nation.

"I still have calluses in some spots," Tomlinson, 50, of West Islip, said.

At the end of this month, he is calling it a career.

"I've been very fortunate. The railroad has been very good to me," the West Islip resident said. "I've had the opportunity in my career here to do an awful lot of things and met a lot of great people."

Tomlinson said he expects to not be out of work for long, and would like to find a new job in the engineering field. Until then, he said he is looking forward to more time with his family.

He was a 19-year-old Manhattan College student when he applied for a summer internship at the urging of his father, who worked as an LIRR accountant. After interning for three summers, Tomlinson was hired as a junior engineer in 1985.

After being promoted to assistant track supervisor, he helped lay track and bend steel rails, and later led the LIRR's earliest efforts in replacing wood rail ties with concrete ones.

In 2000, Tomlinson was a key member of a team that worked on early design work for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's East Side Access project, which aims to link the LIRR to Grand Central Terminal by 2019.

LIRR president Helena Williams has called Tomlinson one of the "founding fathers" of the $8.76 billion project -- the largest public works initiative underway in the United States.

"To get people to believe that it was going to happen was hard," said Tomlinson, who was tasked with helping choose the best path for the LIRR from Queens to Manhattan's East Side.

"For any engineer, that's a dream come true," he said.

Tomlinson later joined the LIRR's capital plan team, first as director of strategic investments and then as chief program officer, leading all the railroad's infrastructure projects, including modernization of Jamaica's signal system, construction of a new rail yard in Brooklyn and early planning for the proposed "double track" project in Suffolk.

In February 2012, Tomlinson was promoted to chief engineer. He said the opportunity brought to mind his days as a junior engineer, filling out a tuition assistance application that included a question about his career goals.

"My boss at the time used to yell at me, 'You have to put down that you want to be chief engineer.' And I'd say, 'I don't know if I want that,' " Tomlinson recalled. "It wasn't in my horizon. I never thought of that back then."

Months into the new job, he was faced with helping lead the LIRR's efforts to recover from superstorm Sandy, which flooded train tunnels, washed away tracks and destroyed critical electronic components. He said he looks back at the experience as "heartwarming" because of how LIRR employees worked together to restore service.

"Kevin is an LIRR and Long Island success story," Williams said in a statement. "His dedication to the LIRR during Sandy and throughout his . . . career is unmatched, and we are sorry to see him go."

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