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Former train engineer Orseno named Metra chief executive

Friday, January 31, 2014
Chicago Tribune
by Richard Wronski

Don Orseno, a 30-year Metra veteran and former locomotive engineer, was named executive director of the nation's second-largest commuter rail agency today, board members announced.

Orseno has been Metra's interim chief since August. He was selected from a field of four candidates who were interviewed today by Metra's 11-member board.

Orseno, 59, is a Chicago-area native and lives in the south suburbs.

A former deputy executive director for operations, Orseno took charge of the agency in August and quickly  emerged as a favorite for the permanent post, based on comments from board members.

Orseno started in the railroad business 40 years ago collecting tickets, setting up trains and checking doors on the former Rock Island Railroad.

Orseno left the Rock Island when it folded in 1980 and then worked for Chicago and NorthWestern as an engineer until joining Metra in 1984. He served in several management positions at Metra before becoming chief operations officer, at a salary of $178,500 a year, Metra said.

“I think if we do the right things for the right reasons, things will automatically take care of themselves,” Orseno said in August after his interim appointment.

He pledged no drastic changes at the time, but vowed to make the rail service better and improve its on-time performance.

One of his first tasks will likely be repairing the confidence – and patience – of riders who were inconvenienced by countless delays and scores of cancellations ever since Jan. 6 with the first round of subzero Arctic cold and snow.

For a time, it appeared Orseno’s fellow deputy director, Alex Wiggins, would be his rival for the job. But Wiggins went on administrative leave last fall, finally resigning in January, he said.

“We run a railroad, and Don is a railroad guy,” Metra's acting Chairman Jack Partelow said in August. “He's been at it a long time and been very successful, and we expect that to continue.”

Orseno will fill the vacancy left when the board ousted CEO Alex Clifford in June, sparking a controversy that prompted calls for the entire board to step down and investigations regarding patronage by the Regional Transportation Authority and two state inspectors general.

State law requires the executive director to be an “individual of proven transportation and management skills.” Metra hired Metra hired Slavin Management Consultants of Norcross, Ga., to screen candidates.

Orseno becomes only the fourth executive director for Metra since it was founded in 1983. James Cole was the first in charge during Metra’s early years; Phil Pagano ran the agency for 20 years -- like a fiefdom, critics say -- and ended up committing suicide in 2010 in disgrace after a vacation-pay scandal, and Clifford, who left the agency last June with a severance deal worth as much as $871,000.

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