Metrolink, a Southern California passenger rail agency that has experienced a revolving door of chief executive officers, announced it will hire a top-level administrator from LA Metro to run the agency for the second time in a row.
The new head also will become the first woman and first African-American CEO in the 26-year-history of the six-county commuter rail service.
Stephanie Wiggins will begin her new position as Metrolink chief executive officer on Jan. 4, replacing Art Leahy, who left LA Metro in the spring of 2015 to run Metrolink. Leahy is retiring after 48 years in the transit business.
Wiggins, 49, who since 2015 served as deputy CEO of LA Metro, the Los Angeles County bus and rail authority, has agreed to a five-year contract, a longevity clause that board members made a priority.
She will earn an annual salary of $349,000, plus benefits worth about $500,000, according to a Metrolink signing agreement.
If Wiggins stays until 2024, she will become the longest-serving Metrolink CEO since David Solow, who served 10 years from 1999 to 2009. Since then, Metrolink will have had five CEOs, including Wiggins, in less than 10 years.
“We pushed for a long-term agreement,” said Andrew Kotyuk, mayor pro-tem of the city of San Jacinto and chairman of the Metrolink board during an interview Wednesday. “She is going to be here for at least five years. We didnt want someone using this position as a stepping stone.”
During the last 15 years, the agency has been plagued with serious crashes, financial audits, declining ridership and calls to eliminate stations to make way for cheaper rides on light-rail run by rival LA Metro.
In the past 11 years, Metrolink sustained several crashes, including a head-on collision with a freight train in Chatsworth in September 2008 that left 25 people dead and 135 injured. Investigators concluded engineer Robert Sanchez was texting on his phone and missed a red signal as two tracks became one. The worst train disaster in L.A. history eventually cost Solow his job.
On Feb. 24, 2015, a Metrolink train hit a truck that had turned onto the tracks, causing a derailment in Oxnard. The crash killed train engineer Glenn Steele and injured 29 passengers.
Leahy replaced DePallo in 2015 and quickly cleaned house, hiring a new chief operating officer, deputy executive officer and new director of external communications.
He also completed a full transition to positive train control, a computerized operating system that shuts the train down in the presence of an oncoming train or vehicle on the tracks. The agency was the first in the nation to fully implement the train control system on all locomotives, at a cost of $220 million.
“When I arrived in Metrolink I was stunned at the disarray in the place,” Leahy said during a speech in July sponsored by The Transit Coalition, a rail watchdog group based in Los Angeles. He said the books were a mess and the agencys joint powers agreement was nearly falling apart.
An internal review presented in February 2013 revealed poor financial record keeping, identified inadequate cash reserves and suggested that the agency was siphoning money out of restricted funds to make ends meet.
Leahy is credited with getting Metrolinks house in order, said Bart Reed, executive director of The Transit Coalition.
A tough job[hhmc]
Wiggins is generally viewed as a good choice for a very tough job because of her extensive rail, business and government connections.
Wiggins has worked for three of the major agencies that comprise Metrolink. At LA Metro, she led the first-ever installation of pay lanes, known as Express Lanes, on the 110 and 10 Freeways, and also worked in rail capital programs.
She served as regional programs director for the Riverside County Transportation Commission (RCTC) and administrative analyst for the San Bernardino County Transportation Authority (SBCTA).
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“Simply having somebody who knows the players in Southern California and has a working knowledge of the industry is part of the business of running this railroad agency,” Reed said. “She has the qualities to bring people together.”
Wiggins said she wants to make safety a priority. Other issues loom, such as expanding some lines from single to double track to increase train frequencies and ridership.
“As a mobility provider that reduces congestion and air pollution in the Southern California region, I look forward to having a laser focus on enhancing the customer experience for current and future riders,” said Wiggins in a prepared statement.
Wiggins is a member of the American Public Transportation Associations board and is the founding president of the Inland Empire Chapter of WTS, Womens Transportation Seminar, a group founded in 1977 to advance the careers of women in transportation.
She will oversee 261 employees for a commuter railroad that covers 2.8 million train miles per year and 400 million passenger miles per year in Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, Los Angeles, Ventura and a portion of San Diego county.
- David Solow, January 1999 – January 2009
- Eric Haley, January 2009 – April 2010
- John Fenton, April 2010 – May 2012
- Michael DePallo, September 2012 – January 2015
- Art Leahy, April 2015 – Jan. 4, 2019
- Stephanie Wiggins, Jan. 4, 2019 –