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Nominee for MTA lead: LIRR 'challenging'

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

The governor's nominee to lead the MTA said Friday that the Long Island Rail Road is one of the agency's "most challenging operations," but thinks he is up to the task.

At a Manhattan conference of the Regional Plan Association, New York City Transit President Thomas Prendergast gave his first public comments since Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo nominated him to be chairman and chief executive of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority -- the largest public transportation system in North America. Pending State Senate confirmation, Prendergast will take over a post vacated in December by New York City mayoral candidate Joseph Lhota.

Prendergast, who also served as LIRR president from 1994 to 2000, said Friday he was "very sensitive" to the issues concerning the 179-year-old LIRR and its 300,000 daily riders.

"You have seven branches feeding a main line. You have two tracks through Nassau County. Then you enter what is a very difficult area," Prendergast said of the busy Long Island City train interlocking, East River tunnels and Penn Station, which are all shared by three railroads. "I'm very familiar with those operational challenges. We need to continue to remind ourselves that we are a regional operation."

Part of being a regional operation could mean allowing Metro-North Railroad into Penn Station, despite some opposition on Long Island, including among eight state senators who have said such a move could hamper the LIRR's service there and cause crowding.

"I support the plan to bring Metro-North to Penn Station in a way that Penn Station could handle," Prendergast said. The MTA is helping conduct an ongoing study examining ways to fit Metro-North into Penn by 2016, shortly after the LIRR gains access to Grand Central Terminal.

Prendergast said he is a booster of other projects that would benefit Long Islanders, including a plan to build a second track along a single-track stretch between Farmingdale and Ronkonkoma.

Prendergast, who has served as acting MTA chief executive since January, also announced his successor to run the agency's subways and buses. Carmen Bianco, senior vice president of subways at New York City Transit, will serve as the agency's acting president while the MTA continues a nationwide search for a permanent president.

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