Catherine Rinaldi, Metro-North president and LIRR interim president, greets Metro-North...

Catherine Rinaldi, Metro-North president and LIRR interim president, greets Metro-North riders as they depart a train at Grand Central Terminal on Feb. 2. Credit: Craig Ruttle

The Nassau and Suffolk representatives on the MTA Board are joining elected officials and commuters in calling on the transit authority to appoint a dedicated leader for the LIRR, saying that Long Island train riders are being shortchanged by having to share a president with Metro-North.

But Metropolitan Transportation Authority chairman Janno Lieber said he’s “thrilled” with the job Catherine Rinaldi has been doing over the last 18 months heading both the Long Island Rail Road — the largest commuter railroad in the United States — and Metro-North — the second-largest — and has given no indication of plans to change the arrangement.

Samuel Chu, Suffolk's representative on the MTA Board, agreed that Rinaldi is "an exceptional executive," and said he appreciated the efficiency benefits of having one person lead both railroads. But, Chu said, "Those benefits shouldn't be mutually exclusive from the Long Island Rail Road having a full-time leader."

"As the largest commuter rail in the country, the LIRR deserves a full-time president," Chu said Sept. 8.


  • Bothered by sharing a leader with Metro-North, some Long Island commuters, elected officials and the Nassau and Suffolk MTA Board representatives are calling for the appointment of a dedicated LIRR president, who they say would be more attentive to their concerns.
  • Since February 2022, Catherine Rinaldi has served in the dual role of Metro-North president and LIRR interim president. MTA chairman Janno Lieber, at the time, said it made sense to have one leader for both railroads, because both would be operating out of Grand Central Terminal.
  • Lieber and other supporters have praised Rinaldi as a skilled manager who led the LIRR through its recent service expansion, but some opponents have criticized her for eliminating the 20-Trip Ticket, reducing direct service to Brooklyn, and neglecting station conditions.

David Mack, Nassau's MTA Board representative, who long has questioned the decision to have Rinaldi lead both railroads, said "there's no doubt about it … We need a dedicated CEO that can watch over us full time." Mack said Rinaldi "has done a great job" but is stretched "too thin."

The board members join a drive recently led by state legislators, who have suggested that a lack of dedicated leadership is behind some recent frustrations felt by commuters, including the elimination of a popular fare discount program, scheduling woes, and dilapidated station conditions.

"We appreciate the current leadership, but we really need a dedicated person, devoted to running the Long Island Rail Road and focusing on the needs of … our region," said Assemb. Michaelle Solages (D-Elmont), who wrote a letter last month to Lieber calling for a sole head of the LIRR. "We've seen too many little things fall through the cracks."

Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages called on the MTA to appoint a...

Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages called on the MTA to appoint a full-time LIRR president during a news conference at the Valley Stream station on Aug. 30. Credit: Morgan Campbell

It was in February 2022 that Lieber announced Rinaldi would step into the role of interim LIRR president, replacing Phillip Eng, who ran the railroad for four years. Rinaldi already was serving as president of the LIRR’s sister railroad, Metro-North — a post she’s held since 2018.

Having one person temporarily hold more than one leadership position at the MTA is not unprecedented. Helena Williams did double duty as LIRR president and interim CEO and executive director of the MTA for about five months in 2009. LIRR senior vice president Raymond Kenny served as "acting president" of the LIRR for 10 months between 2006 and 2007, before Williams was hired.

With the LIRR preparing to open a new Manhattan station inside Metro-North’s longtime home, Grand Central Terminal, Lieber reasoned at the time that it made sense to have one person lead both railroads. In a statement Sept. 8, Lieber said he asked Rinaldi to fill the role "at a critical time for Long Island Rail Road, and she has stepped up and delivered.”

But concerns quickly arose on Long Island that sharing a leader with another railroad could lead to Nassau and Suffolk commuters being shortchanged. Calls for a dedicated LIRR president intensified after February’s opening of Grand Central Madison, which led to widespread frustrations among riders over the LIRR’s overhauled schedule and crowding conditions.

Responding to riders' complaints, three state lawmakers from Suffolk County in March called for the appointment of a full-time LIRR president, saying in a statement that, while Rinaldi is "extremely gifted and experienced, the role of overseeing both rail systems is too daunting of a task to be held by one individual and precisely why two Presidents have existed."

Losing 20-trip discount agitates riders

Some riders were further agitated when the MTA’s latest fare increase included the elimination of the LIRR’s “20-Trip Ticket,” which offered discounted fares for part-time commuters. The decision spurred Solages to write a letter to Lieber dated Aug. 25, telling him that “Long Island Rail Road needs a permanent president who understands the nuances of suburban commuters and makes decisions that enhance the accessibility, affordability, and efficiency of our public transportation system.”

In an Aug. 30 news conference, a group of Democratic and Republican elected officials and commuters backed Solages’ call. Speakers pointed to the dilapidated conditions at the Valley Stream station, and the elimination of most direct trains between Long Island and Brooklyn, as evidence of Rinaldi’s inattentiveness to local concerns. 

“We need leadership desperately — like, yesterday,” said 25-year commuter Denecia Marshall, who expressed frustration over insufficient direct train service between Brooklyn and Long Island, and the crumbling state of her home station, Valley Stream. "I hope this helps in getting some real leadership here."

Rinaldi did not respond to a request for comment made through the MTA press office. But MTA officials noted that there are plans for extensive upgrades at Valley Stream, with construction expected to begin next year; that the decision to eliminate the 20-Trip Ticket was made by the MTA Board; and that the Grand Central Madison service plan, including the reduction of direct Brooklyn service, was made before Rinaldi began leading the LIRR.

Fighting back against the criticism, Lieber, at a Queens news conference Sept. 5, heaped praise on Rinaldi, and credited her with engineering “the largest service increase in the Long Island Rail Road’s history, ever” because she led the railroad through the opening of Grand Central Madison. The MTA has said overall LIRR service has increased by 41%.

“She’s had enormous success, and we’re really thrilled with how she’s been working,” Lieber said of Rinaldi, who grew up in Huntington, but now lives in the village of Irvington in Westchester County. “We’re also thrilled to work with Long Island Rail Road users and the elected [officials] as we address issues. It really has nothing to do with leadership.”

MTA officials also have noted that, although Rinaldi splits her time between the railroads, the LIRR does have a senior vice president of operations, Robert Free, running day-to-day things.

Prof: Rinaldi 'superior administrator'

Mitchell Moss, professor of urban policy and planning at New York University, said that while Long Island commuters have a “valid point” in wanting a leader who “shares their daily experience” riding the LIRR, he believes Lieber is right to put his trust in Rinaldi, a “superior administrator.”

“I think the decision to have Cathy Rinaldi manage both [railroads] is an intelligent one. I think we should recognize that she has outstanding leadership skills,” Moss said of Rinaldi, who has two decades of experience at the MTA, including as LIRR vice president and general counsel.

“We shouldn’t be judging whether Cathy Rinaldi has one position of two. It’s how well does she do in the job,” Moss said. “Just because you put a body in a position doesn’t mean it’s going to be better than what you have now.”

Bruce McIver, who served as LIRR president from 1985 to 1989, called it a full-time job that “requires a lot of attention.” McIver said that while he could be convinced a single person could successfully run both of the MTA’s commuter railroads, he didn’t understand why such an arrangement would be necessary.

“I mean, what are you going to save — the salary of a Long Island Rail Road president?” McIver said. “From an operational point of view, I think it would be possible to make it work. But why do that if you’re going to lose the confidence of your commuters?”

Public records show that while serving in her dual role for most of 2022, Rinaldi earned $372,639 last year, making her the third-highest paid employee, behind Lieber and MTA Police Chief Robert Rau. As the respective presidents of Metro-North and the LIRR in 2022, Rinaldi and Eng both made around $323,000 in 2021.

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