Interview: Catherine Rinaldi, Metro-North's 1st Female President

Mar 28, 2018

The nation’s second busiest railroad just got a new boss. Last month, Catherine Rinaldi was appointed president of the MTA’s Metro-North Railroad.

Rinaldi has been serving as acting president of Metro-North since July of last year. She becomes the sixth person to head up the railroad and the first woman to hold that position.

It’s not an easy job. Metro-North provides more than 86 million rides a year between Grand Central Terminal and 124 stations in New York and Connecticut.  

Catherine Rinaldi recently spoke to All Things Considered Host Bill Buchner about her new role. Below is a transcript of their conversation.

Welcome.

Thank you so much for having me.

You’re no stranger to the region’s rail system. You were born in Brooklyn, raised in Huntington, Long Island, you now live in Westchester. Are you a commuter as well?

I do indeed. Everyday.

What is your priority as president of Metro-North?

My priority as president of Metro-North is to continue Metro-North’s commitment to the safety of our customers. Safety is everything for Metro-North; it’s the most important thing that we do.      

You’ve been doing the job for about eight months. What have you learned from commuters in that time about what they want from their rail service?

I would say that the thing we hear the most frequently from commuters is that they want more reliable performance. They want to know they’re going to get to their destination on time. And when we get complaints from customers it tends to be a problem with service delivery.      

We spoke with Jim Cameron, who is with the Commuter Action Group here in Connecticut. He said the number one complaint among commuters is overcrowding during rush hours. There are too few rail cars and people often have to stand. Is there a plan to address this issue?

There is. The New Haven line is Metro-North’s busiest. So one of the things that we and CDOT have worked on together is the purchase of 60 new M-8 cars. And this will help alleviate crowded conditions on the New Haven line and those cars are set to arrive late next year.

Also commuters say there are often delays due to “track conditions.” Would you talk a bit about what type of track conditions cause delays and how they are resolved?

Over the past several years Metro-North has embarked on a very, very aggressive infrastructure improvement program. This is all across the territory including New Haven and including the branch lines. Because of our commitment to improving the infrastructure, we are taking tracks out of service so we can get in there and get as much work done as possible. This is a balancing act that we have to engage in, making sure we get our riders where they want to go safely and efficiently but also leaving time for us to do the important infrastructure work that’s necessary to keep the overall system safe.         

On the positive side commuters say communications have improved. If something goes wrong on the line, I know this from personal experience, you get an alter by way of tweets, or emails. Is this new practicing coming from the top? Can we expect more in the future?

Yeah. I’m actually really pleased to hear you say that. I think that we’ve made really great strides over the course of the last couple of years in terms of the various ways we have of reaching out to our customers. We have a new social media unit and I’ll follow the tweets every now and again, especially during service disruptions. And I think it’s been a very, very positive, successful way for our staff to be able to communicate with people who are actually out on our trains experiencing our services first-hand.

What’s the significance for you being the first woman as head of Metro-North?

When I was named to the position on a permanent basis I got all kinds of notes and calls and congratulations, which were all very lovely, but the ones that really stuck with me were the few people who emailed me to say, they have daughters at home, and they were going to go home to their daughters that night and tell them that their new boss was a woman and really the sky’s the limit for women in the professional world. And I was so incredibly moved by those stories and honored to be the person they were talking to their daughters about. To be in that position and have the opportunity as a woman to lead an organization in an industry that has traditionally been very, very male-dominated. It’s a thrill for me, it’s an honor for me and I just can’t tell you how honored to be in that position.