Metra head gets pay hike of nearly 10 percent

  • Don Orseno

    Don Orseno

Updated 12/14/2016 7:10 PM

Metra directors voted Wednesday to increase their executive director's salary by nearly 10 percent as riders brace for a fare hike Feb. 1.

Agency chief Don Orseno had earned $289,500 a year and will now receive $317,500.


Orseno, an experienced railroader, took over Metra at a time when the agency was in turmoil after losing its second executive director in three years.

"What he does is simply incredible," Chairman Norm Carlson said. "He works an incredible amount of hours, he brings experience that no one else in the industry brings, (and) we operate in the most complex terminal in the United States."

Metra has stabilized and instituted improvements since Orseno took over, but many challenges remain. Those include reducing delays, a problem that hit home Wednesday morning with numerous late trains on the busy BNSF line because of cold-weather issues.

Under Orseno, Metra has "the lowest fare, the highest on-time performance, (with) the oldest set of equipment," Carlson said, adding the CEO was a leader in national railroad and transit organizations. Orseno earns less than other commuter railroad agency heads, Carlson added.

The board didn't take the raise lightly, said Metra director and Hanover Park Mayor Rod Craig. Board directors reviewed salaries of Orseno's peers and the decision "reflects on the quality of work he's accomplished."

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A look at what other transit agency leaders earn shows a range.

Dorval Carter, executive director of the Chicago Transit Authority, is paid $239,112 annually. The executive director of New Jersey Transit, which includes commuter rail, light rail and buses, earns $210,000 a year.

The general manager of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, which provides buses, commuter rail, subways and trolleys, makes $248,000. The chief of Metro-North Railroad, which provides commuter rail to New York City and Connecticut suburbs, earns $285,000.

The general manager of the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit agency makes $360,761 a year.

Orseno stepped in as interim executive director in 2013 prior to taking the job in early 2014. His original salary was $262,500 a year.

The Metra fare increase coming in 2017 averages 5.8 percent. It is part of a 10-year modernization plan to pay for growing operating costs, a high-tech braking system, and to rebuild and buy new locomotives and railcars. However since it began raising fares in 2015, Metra has not yet delivered any of the new cars promised with the modernization.

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