Eng, right, speaks with commuter Todd Orelli of Huntington on...

Eng, right, speaks with commuter Todd Orelli of Huntington on a train in 2019. Credit: Barry Sloan

Phillip Eng said his decision to step down as LIRR president was driven by more family time, new challenges and confidence the railroad is "set up for success" without him.

Eng, 60, turned in his letter of resignation to MTA chairman and CEO Janno Lieber on Feb. 9. Lieber then tapped Catherine Rinaldi, 58, to serve as interim LIRR president, while simultaneously holding her current job as president of Metro-North.

Rinaldi begins her new role on Feb. 26, although Eng has said he will remain in an advisory role through March 11 to ensure a smooth transition.

Eng said he had been thinking about leaving the LIRR for some time and felt the time was right, in part because he "did what I came here to do" — including improving service reliability and getting the railroad ready for the completion of the $2.6 billion Third Track between Floral Park and Hicksville, and the $11.2 billion East Side Access link to Grand Central Terminal.

"I know there’s always more to do, but the service that’s being provided is the best we’ve done in our history. We’re showing that we could deliver projects — big projects — and still deliver service," he said. "I feel confident in the workforce that remains and the management team that remains. I wouldn’t have made the decision if I felt otherwise."

Sources with knowledge of Eng’s decision told Newsday that his resignation followed frustrations over a corporate realignment at the MTA, which diminished his power in running the nation’s largest commuter railroad.

Eng’s exit followed growing dissatisfaction over the MTA’s "Transformation" initiative, urged by former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, which aimed to cut costs by reorganizing and consolidating several functions within the authority, sources said. The initiative — as well as a separate effort to create a single department at the MTA that led all construction projects — took a lot off the plate of Eng, who came to the LIRR in 2018 after a nearly four-decade career in transportation engineering and leadership. The changes led to Eng having less say than other MTA leaders over key projects, sources said.

In a statement, Lieber said Eng has done an "incredible" job as LIRR president, and credited him with "strengthening operations" and "overseeing historic infrastructure … all the while navigating a once-in-a-century crisis with COVID."

Eng, of Smithtown, acknowledged he sometimes voiced an opinion on projects that differed with others at the MTA, and said that anyone in his job would want to feel "challenged and want to be engaged." But Eng said he’s always been a "team player," and that those issues are not why he quit.

"If we agreed on everything that we’re doing, something is probably off," he said. "I’m not leaving because I’m upset at anything, and I’m not leaving because any frustrations or disappointment … I love challenges, and I think we’ve tackled them. And I’m very proud of where we are today."

Others close to Eng said that, after a 39-year career in public service, he was ready to bring his expertise to the private sector, where he could command a higher salary, while also collecting his state pension. MTA officials said Eng made $291,312 last year.

Eng said he has been approached by private companies throughout his career in public service.

Lieber's predecessor, former MTA chairman and CEO Patrick Foye, commended Eng for an "extraordinary job leading the LIRR and protecting its customers and workforce through the pandemic."

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