Transportation-industry veteran Cathy Rinaldi’s career with the MTA began in 2003 and has seen her in various roles, including general counsel and chief of staff for the MTA chairman. After serving as Metro-North’s acting president for seven months, the 54-year-old Westchester resident, who commutes every day on the Hudson Line, became the organization’s first-ever female president in February.
What is the significance of becoming the first female president of Metro-North?
The transportation industry is still male-dominated, so to be a leader in this corporation is particularly powerful. I think it sends the right message to women who are trying to make a path for themselves within the transportation industry. One of the things I would like to achieve is to sell the railroad to women as a place to build a career. It’s a tremendous honor for me, and a tremendous responsibility, as well, to step up to this role.
What are some of the top challenges facing Metro-North right now?
Balancing customer desires and expectations with the need to ensure that the infrastructure is safe is something that every railroad in the country has to do right now. Metro-North had a challenging time in 2013; there were a number of serious accidents, and that caused us to make an aggressive commitment to improving and maintaining our infrastructure. [But doing that] has an impact on service delivery… so there is a tension there.
“Positive train control” became the buzzy term after these derailments. Where is Metro-North now, in terms of implementation?
There is a federal mandate to install this technology, and we’re working to get it deployed across the Metro-North system as quickly as possible. We’re required to meet certain milestones by the end of this year to be in compliance, and we are on target.
“It’s a tremendous honor to step into this role.”
What kind of customer improvements are you most focused on?
Improving our customer communication is a key priority. We now have a full-time social media unit, which allows us to engage our customers in real-time to give them information about their ride. Especially when there are service disruptions, social media is a great tool, and I think people appreciate it.
Reverse commuting to Westchester is a growing trend. How is Metro-North handling that increased demand?
We are now engaged in a very exciting station-improvement project at White Plains, which is the third-busiest station in the Metro-North network, after Grand Central and Stamford, and is a robust reverse-commute destination. We are completely reimagining and re-envisioning that station. This project typifies the promise of what we can do to improve the customer experience but also illustrates that it doesn’t come without a cost, at least initially, as we’ve had to cut service to be able to accommodate the work.
Do you envision projects like this in other urban Westchester hubs?
Our partnerships rely upon the willingness of the municipality. We don’t want to go in with a heavy footprint and impose our vision of what the community should be, but where the communities are behind transit-oriented developments, we are happy to work with them. I think it’s something that makes this area very exciting.
What do you see as your role in Westchester’s business community?
I need to be an advocate and educate the business community about what Metro-North does for them and the kind of investments we’re going to need going forward to continue to be a partner with the business community, because Metro-North, and the MTA as a whole, is a real economic driver.