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Meet Donald A. Orseno!

Meet Donald A. Orseno!
Member, APTA Board of Directors; chair, Commuter Rail Committee and Commuter Rail CEOs Subcommittee; member, Legislative and Research & Technology committees

Please describe your agency's scope.
Metra is the commuter rail agency serving Cook, DuPage, Will, Lake, Kane and McHenry counties in the Chicago area. It’s the sister agency to the Chicago Transit Authority, which provides rail and bus service in Chicago and some suburbs, and Pace, which provides bus service primarily in the suburbs.

In that six-county area, Metra provides about 300,000 passenger rides a day, serves more than 100 communities with 241 stations on 11 lines radiating out from Chicago’s downtown and operates on about 1,150 miles of track. It’s one of the largest commuter railroads in the nation.

How long have you worked in public transportation? What drew you to a career in the industry?
I started my railroad career more than 41 years ago, and I’ve been with Metra more than 31 years—since 1984, when the agency began.

I always wanted to be a locomotive engineer, which I first did with the ­Chicago Rock Island and Pacific Railroad Company early in my career. I started at Metra as a trainmaster and rose up through the ranks. I oversaw many different departments—engineering, mechanical, ticketing, customer service, planning, operations, safety—on both sides of the industry, operations and administration.

I’m a third-generation railroader. My grand­father had more than 50 years in the industry and my father had more than 45. There’s a long history of railroading in my family. Railroading is absolutely in my blood.

How long have you been an APTA member? Please describe your involvement with APTA and note what’s rewarding about it.
Metra has been a part of the APTA organization for quite a long time, since the agency’s earliest days. I’m very active in APTA. I serve on the APTA Board of Directors and as chairman of the Commuter Rail Committee and the Commuter Rail CEOs Subcommittee, in addition to other committees. I encourage Metra employees to be active, too.

The most rewarding parts of our APTA involvement are the people, the knowledge and the networking, which allow us the ability to tap into resources—connections—that wouldn’t be there for us without APTA.

What have you found to be the most valuable APTA benefit or resource? Which one helps you do your job, and why?
It’s the networking. The ability to interact with industry leaders from throughout the country is invaluable. Every agency—regardless of where it is or how large it is—faces tough and challenging times.

The industry as a whole faces many of the same issues as Metra. Understanding how others have addressed challenges and being able to share how we’ve addressed them helps us identify and apply best practices so we can move our organization forward in the safest, most reliable, effective and efficient way possible.

What do you like most about your career?
Every day presents a unique challenge. Nothing stays the same; everything is dynamic and changing.
I’m very proud to be part of Metra, which is always looking to better itself. We have a wonderful board of directors that provides us the resources we need to the best of its ability so we can get the things done we need to do. We also have world-class employees who work hard every single day to make the organization great. Everybody’s working together. We work as a team to get things done.

What is unique about your agency? What would readers be surprised to learn?
Metra does not own some of the tracks over which it operates. We own and operate four of our 11 lines, operate three others over tracks owned by freight railroads and we have purchase-of-service agreements with two freight railroads that operate the remaining four lines.

We operate in the busiest and most complex rail network in the nation—the Chicago hub. We run more than 753 trains a day through this hub, sharing the tracks with 500 to 600 freight and Amtrak trains. Keeping our customers safe, happy and on time (our on-time performance goal is 95 percent or better) and making sure the whole region operates in the best way possible takes a lot of coordination and great effort on everybody’s part.

It’s very challenging, but it’s also very rewarding to know we’re all working for the same goal.
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