New Metra chief strives for stability
By Mike Nolan firstname.lastname@example.org October 25, 2013 5:16PM
Don Orseno, interim chief executive of Metra, says he hopes to bring stability to the commuter rail agency after the controversial departure of its former CEO. | Mike Nolan~Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 28, 2013 6:23AM
Like his father and grandfather before him, Don Orseno is a railroad man.
He started in 1974 as a trainman with the Rock Island Railroad, then moved up to locomotive engineer with the line, where his grandfather had worked for half a century and his father for nearly as long.
“I always wanted to work for the railroad. I always wanted to be an (railroad) engineer since I was a small boy,” the Manhattan resident said.
Orseno now is working to engineer a turnaround for Metra, where in late August he was named interim chief executive following the controversial departure of former CEO Alex Clifford. He said he is continuing to move ahead with planned updates of facilities and equipment while also working to change any negative perception the public might have about the commuter rail agency.
Metra’s on-time performance continues to improve and, through July, ridership revenue was up 4 percent compared with the first seven months of last year.
Orseno, 58, who formerly lived in Orland Park and Homer Glen, said in a recent interview that his primary goal is to “bring stability back to the organization,” where turmoil in the agency’s administration has been a distraction.
“We’ve gone through some struggles,” he said.
After the Rock Island’s demise in 1980 — although the name lives on as part of Metra’s network — Orseno worked as an engineer for the Chicago and North Western railroad before joining Metra in 1984. Over the years, he’s held positions including director of suburban operations, chief customer service officer and, most recently, chief operations officer.
In June, after Metra’s board approved a separation package for Clifford worth as much as $871,000, Orseno and Alex Wiggins, Metra’s head of administration, were named as the rail agency’s co-executive directors.
Brad O’Halloran stepped down this summer as chairman of Metra’s board of directors, simultaneously giving up his position as Orland Park trustee.
Jack Partelow, named the board’s acting chairman after O’Halloran resigned, noted Orseno’s lengthy rail resume after the board approved his promotion to interim CEO.
“We run a railroad, and Don is a railroad man,’’ Partelow said at the time.
And Orseno said he knows that in order to keep riders content, facilities such as stations and trains can’t be left to fall into disrepair.
He said Metra is working to spruce up stations — the 103rd Street station on the Rock Island recently was finished and a reconstruction of the Oak Forest station, a project being overseen by that city, is nearing completion. So far, 52 new Highliner cars for the Metra Electric line — out of a total order of 160 train cars costing $585 million — have been delivered. In what is likely to be welcome news for commuters, half of the new cars have washrooms.
But Orseno said that station upgrades and new cars are just part of the customer experience and mean little if schedules aren’t kept. On-time performance has improved each month this June and Metra continues to work on riders’ “customer experience,” Orseno said.
“People are using our service to go from Point A to Point B, and they have expectations they are going to get there on time,” he said.