By Richard Wronski
8:30 PM CST, January 31, 2014
Don Orseno, a 30-year Metra veteran and former locomotive engineer, was appointed Friday to run the nation's second-largest commuter rail agency, taking over as Metra struggles to overcome a patronage controversy and service-crippling weather.
Metra's interim chief since August, Orseno was the unanimous choice of Metra's 11-member board, which selected him from a field of four candidates after a nationwide search.
Orseno, 59, said one of his first tasks will be "rebuilding the trust" of riders who were inconvenienced by the delays and scores of cancellations that started Jan. 6 with the first round of subzero arctic cold and snow.
This winter's brutal weather has severely challenged Metra's ability to run 700 trains with 300,000 passengers a day.
Acting Chairman Jack Partelow said Orseno achieved the "difficult balance" of being "an individual who has an understanding of railroad operations, customer service delivery, and local and national advocacy" for Metra.
A Chicago-area native, Orseno takes over leadership of an agency rocked by the 2010 scandal and suicide of one former chief executive, Phil Pagano, and a bitter battle between his immediate predecessor, Alex Clifford, and some members of Metra's board.
Clifford was ousted last June with a severance deal worth as much as $871,000 after raising complaints of political interference at Metra, among other allegations.
"I intend to move this organization forward and do the best I can," Orseno said after his appointment.
Orseno will make $262,500 a year. He has no contract and will serve at the discretion of the board.
Several board members praised Orseno's experience and expertise. Orseno "has proven himself again and again and again," said Jack Schaffer.
"He brings together in one person the best qualities of Phil Pagano and Alex Clifford," said Schaffer, who represents McHenry County. "Neither one of those gentlemen was perfect, but what we have in Don is a railroader with an incredible span of service."
Orseno was most recently Metra's deputy executive director for operations. He started in the railroad business 40 years ago collecting tickets, setting up trains and checking doors on the former Rock Island Railroad.
Leaving the Rock Island when it folded in 1980, Orseno worked for Chicago and North Western as an engineer until joining Metra in 1984. He served in several management positions at Metra before becoming chief operations officer.
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