Helena Williams, the first female president of the Long Island Rail Road and longest title holder in decades, has been replaced.
MTA officials made the announcement Wednesday that Williams' almost seven-year reign over the LIRR would end in the coming weeks.
“It’s been a privilege to have served as LIRR President,” Williams said in a statement. “I am deeply grateful to the men and women of the LIRR and to my leadership team who have worked tirelessly to meet the needs of our customers and help modernize the LIRR’s operations.”
"I was surprised…I am greatly disappointed. This had been my dream job," Williams, 58, told Newsday of her firing.
Williams will officially step down May 12 and will be replaced by Patrick Nowakowski, a longtime railroad professional who most recently served as executive director of the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project.
Nowakowski said he was "deeply honored" to be appointed president, saying in a statement, "It's a tall order, and I look forward to working with the LIRR's customers, employees and other stakeholders to ensure the railroad achieves its goals.”
"Pat’s strong background in railroad operations will serve the LIRR well, and I trust Pat to enhance the railroad's operational excellence and emphasize safety and reliability as it confronts new challenges in the coming years," said MTA CEO and Chairman Thomas Prendergast, adding that in the coming years the LIRR "must successfully complete the Double Track project along the Ronkonkoma Branch, harden its infrastructure against the threat of future storms, and prepare for East Side Access to revolutionize service."
"As a Long Islander, Helena has been aware of the landscape and has worked to improve travel for all LIRR commuters," said Long Island Railroad Commuter Council (LIRRCC) chair Mark Epstein in a statement. He added the council thanked Williams for her service and commended her "effort to make The Long Island Rail Road more transparent and responsive."
The LIRRCC added their congratulations to Nowakowski and said that they look forward to working with him when he is appointed.
Some Long Island officials voiced concern over Williams' replacement.
"This change of command comes at a sensitive time for the LIRR and Long Island," Jan Burman, the president of Association for a Better Long Island, told Newsday.
Long Island Association president Kevin Law told Newsday the move was a "bad decision, bad timing, and bad for Long Island."
Do you agree with the decision to fire Williams? What should Nowakowski's top priorities be for the LIRR when he takes over as president? Let us know in the comments section below.