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MTA: LIRR chief’s job safe for now, but another top exec quits

Patrick Nowakowski on Monday attends the MTA's LIRR

Patrick Nowakowski on Monday attends the MTA's LIRR committee meeting in Manhattan. Credit: / Charles Eckert

MTA chief Joe Lhota said Wednesday he has no plans to fire LIRR president Patrick Nowakowski “at this time,” but another top executive at the railroad has stepped down amid growing criticism from riders and Metropolitan Transportation Authority brass over poor service in recent months.

Bruce Pohlot, the railroad’s senior vice president of engineering, resigned Wednesday, according to an internal LIRR memo obtained by Newsday.

In 2014, Nowakowski hired Pohlot for the position, which included oversight of much of the LIRR’s infrastructure, such as tracks, switches, signals, bridges, stations, shops and yards. Pohlot made $223,355 in 2016, according to state records.

In the memo, Nowakowski announced that Chris Calvagna would replace Pohlot immediately as acting vice president of engineering. Calvagna has worked for the LIRR more than 31 years, most recently as chief engineer of the maintenance-of-way department, according to the memo.

Nowakowski asked LIRR employees to give Calvagna their “full support.”

A railroad spokesman declined to confirm or comment on the change.

Despite hammering Nowakowski earlier this week on the railroad’s recent service disruptions, failure to communicate with riders and “lack of urgency,” Lhota on Wednesday praised Nowakowski for his work during the so-called “summer of hell” track repairs at Penn Station. Still, Lhota said he was dissatisfied with the LIRR, which is failing to address known weather-related problems he described as “pretty basic things” that occur each season.

“Snow happens in New York. It’s just one of those things and you’ve got to be prepared for it,” Lhota told reporters after Wednesday’s MTA board meeting in Manhattan. “Leaves fall in New York. . . . We’ve got to do everything we can to possibly clean it up.”

Lhota’s comments followed criticism from the board, which has been seeking answers on the railroad’s shoddy service. Scott Rechler, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s hand-picked board member, called the LIRR’s recent level of service “totally unacceptable” and said it needs to set a new standard for communications between employees internally and among customers.

Rechler suggested that the railroad adopt some form of action plan to address the issues, echoing Lhota’s call for such a plan modeled on one for New York City subways.

“I just find the responses to be inadequate, based on the challenges,” Rechler said. “We have to think about how do we use other approaches to communicate better among our own internal people so we can communicate better to our customers. And I think that’s a standard that needs to be set.”

Lhota said he and Nowakowski agree that the LIRR service issues, at their source, relate to bad management.

“He understands what needs to be done and my hope and expectation is that it will get done,” Lhota told reporters.

After a December in which LIRR delays rose 27 percent from the previous month and 18 service suspensions in the first 18 days of January, Lhota earlier this month said there needed to be meaningful reforms at the LIRR, including through a “re-evaluation” of its staff.

The chairman said Wednesday that he’s developing a new “approach” with Nowakowski and MTA Managing Director Ronnie Hakim to address service quality.

Referring to the service changes forced on the agency after Amtrak announced the need for emergency repairs at Penn during what Cuomo dubbed the “summer of hell,” Lhota said, “Pat did it then, Pat can do it now.”

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