Metra CEO Don Orseno says he's retiring at end of year

Metra CEO Don Orseno, a 43-year rail veteran credited by transit experts with helping restore the rail service's reputation after years of troubled management, said on Friday that he plans to retire in December.Orseno, 62, said in an interview that he had...

Metra CEO Don Orseno says he's retiring at end of year

Metra CEO Don Orseno, a 43-year rail veteran credited by transit experts with helping restore the rail service's reputation after years of troubled management, said on Friday that he plans to retire in December.

Orseno, 62, said in an interview that he had been thinking about retiring for years and that he wants to spend time with his family, including his five grandchildren.

"I want to be able to do things while I'm still physically able to do them," Orseno said.

Orseno became Metra's executive director and CEO in January 2014, having served as interim head of the service since August 2013. He replaced Alex Clifford, who was forced out and got a severance package valued at up to $871,000.

Clifford succeeded Phil Pagano, who killed himself in 2010 after allegations of financial misconduct.

During his tenure at Metra, Orseno has expanded the agency's rail car and locomotive rehabilitation program, implemented new or improved safety programs and overhauled Metra's Police Department, according the commuter rail agency. He said he is proud of deploying the Ventra app, which allows customers to buy tickets on their phones, and making a better agency website.

Month after fare increase OK'd, Metra gives CEO a $28K raise William Lee

Calling their chief executive officer greatly overworked and grossly underpaid in comparison to other big-city commuter rail executives, the Metra Board on Wednesday voted to give CEO Donald Orseno a $28,000 pay raise.

Board members praised Orseno, a 32-year Metra veteran and Chicago-area native,...

Calling their chief executive officer greatly overworked and grossly underpaid in comparison to other big-city commuter rail executives, the Metra Board on Wednesday voted to give CEO Donald Orseno a $28,000 pay raise.

Board members praised Orseno, a 32-year Metra veteran and Chicago-area native,...

(William Lee)

Metra has also imposed three pay rate increases over the last three years.

Orseno said the agency was in a "tailspin" between 2010 and 2013, and that since then, Metra has been able to build a "great team" and restore public trust.

"Metra is a much better place. We're back on track," said Orseno, a former locomotive engineer. "We're light-years ahead of where we were several years ago."

Orseno began his career in 1974 as a ticket collector on Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad Co. commuter trains. He began working for Metra in 1984.

Metra's board of directors has formed a committee to search nationwide for the agency's next executive director and CEO, with the goal of hiring someone this fall, according to a Metra statement.

"Don's retirement is a major loss to Metra," Metra board Chairman Norman Carlson said in a statement, which also called Orseno "well-respected" in the railroad industry and by state legislators and members of Congress.

Don Orseno E. Jason Wambsgans / Chicago Tribune

Metra CEO Don Orseno at the 49th St. yard facility along the Rock Island District Line on May 12, 2016.

Metra CEO Don Orseno at the 49th St. yard facility along the Rock Island District Line on May 12, 2016.

(E. Jason Wambsgans / Chicago Tribune)

"We are grateful for his tremendous service and pleased that he will stay on through the end of the year to help with the transition to new leadership," Carlson said.

Metra's board voted in December to give Orseno a $28,000 pay raise to $317,500 annually, retroactive to Oct. 1. Orseno said the raise will not result in a big bump in his pension, because of an "anti-spiking" clause at Metra that looks at salary over the past three years, rather than just the most recent year's pay.

In approving the raise, the board called Orseno overworked and underpaid compared with other big-city commuter rail executives.

mwisniewski@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @marywizchicago

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