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MTA Announces Rob Free Takes Over as Acting President of MTA Long Island Rail Road

Long Island Rail Road
Updated Oct 19, 2023 4:45 p.m.
Rob Free

Free Started as a Station Cleaner 31 Years Ago and Was Most Recently LIRR Senior Vice President of Operations

Free Will Prioritize Safety, Reliability and Improved Customer Experience

Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) Chair and CEO Janno Lieber announced that today, Thursday, Oct. 19, is Rob Free’s first full day as acting Long Island Rail Road President. Free succeeds Metro-North Railroad President Catherine Rinaldi who had served as Interim LIRR President since February of 2022.

Rinaldi, who will continue her role as President of Metro-North, will also serve as Senior Advisor, MTA Railroads.

Free grew up in Centereach and Patchogue and started working at the LIRR 31 years ago as a Station Cleaner. He worked alongside Anthony Simon who now serves as General Chair of the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail Transportation (SMART) Union. As fate would have it, both men have risen to lead their respective organizations. Free previously served as Senior Vice President, Operations at the Long Island Rail Road. 

“Rob Free has seen and done it all during his long career at the LIRR. A Long Island native, he’s widely respected by his colleagues and a natural choice for Acting President,” said MTA Chair and CEO Janno Lieber. “Over the years, he’s led efforts on system safety and customer experience while helping to open critical projects like Grand Central Madison, Main Line Third Track and the first new LIRR station in 50 years at Elmont-UBS Arena.” 

As Acting President of the Long Island Rail Road, Free has said he will prioritize three things.

  • Safety for customers and employees
  • Reliability
  • Improving the Customer Experience

“We have to ensure the safety of our employees and customers while providing a reliable system with consistently improving on time performance and a strong service plan,” said Free. “I am always looking at ways to improve the customer experience, from planning your trip, by improving the TrainTime app, and making sure train service is meeting our customer’s needs. From the moment you arrive to the moment you depart our facilities I want it to be the best experience possible.”

As Acting President of the Long Island Rail Road, Free will oversee the continuing recovery of LIRR ridership following the COVID-19 pandemic and any necessary schedule adjustments to adapt to new ridership patterns brought about by the service expansion created when the Main Line Third Track and Grand Central Madison opened earlier this year.

Free has led initiatives to improve the customer experience by tasking crews with changing 1,100 lights and replacing more than 12,000 seat cushions over the last two years. He takes his management priorities personally, regularly going up on the platforms to watch the operation and make suggestions to staff on how to improve, and even routinely opening bathroom doors to make sure that they’re clean and in working order.

Before serving as Senior Vice President of Operations, Free was LIRR Chief Transportation Officer, where he oversaw more than 2,000 employees and was charged with maintaining efficient systemwide train operations, coordinating the many track outages that allowed significant projects such as Ronkonkoma Branch Double Track and state of good repair maintenance to progress.

As Senior VP, he was responsible for over 7,000 employees in Rolling Stock Maintenance, Train Movement, Maintenance of Way, Service Planning, Security and Station Operations. Free led operations through the COVID-19 pandemic, ensuring train service for essential workers, and also helped advance capital megaprojects that have expanded the LIRR, the Main Line Third Track and start of service to Grand Central Madison. This oversight included areas such as operations and service planning, staffing, and maintenance which, upon the projects’ successful launch, resulted in a historic 40% increase in train service.

Free is a married father of four children and has lived for 25 years in Port Jefferson Station. He commutes from his home by train daily and has spent time at every station in the system.