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Healey appoints Phillip Eng as MBTA general manager

The Orange Line.
The Orange Line. Former Long Island Railroad president Phillip Eng will become the MBTA General Manager on April 10. ANDREW BURKE-STEVENSON/DFP PHOTOGRAPHER

Gov. Maura Healey announced March 27 Phillip Eng, former president of the Long Island Rail Road, will take over as the new general manager of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority April 10.

Eng, a self-proclaimed “public transportation aficionado,” said at a press conference the people of Massachusetts can expect to see “meaningful, measurable steps being taken and progress being made.” 

“It’s clear that the MBTA service is not at the level that it needs to be, and it hasn’t been that way for far too long,” Eng said. “It’s time for a new way of doing business at the T.”

In 2018, Eng took office as president of the Long Island Rail Road following the lowest annual on-time performance rate in 18 years. In 2021, the Long Island Rail Road reached its best annual on-time performance rate since the 1970s. 

“What really stood out to all of us in the search process is that he has a proven track record of taking on challenging problems, taking over the reins of transit systems in times of crises and turning them around,” Healey said at the press conference.

Eng is replacing current interim General Manager Jeff Gonneville, who took the position after former General Manager Steve Poftak stepped down in January after a series of safety incidents. 

Scott Mullen, transportation demand management director of A Better City, said the organization is optimistic about Eng’s dedication to a customer-focused approach.

“The T hasn’t really done a robust ridership campaign, like inviting people, encouraging people, getting people excited about coming back to the T,” Mullen said. “We’re ready to support in whatever way that we can to make sure we get the right outcome.”

MassDOT Secretary Gina Fiandaca said at the conference Eng understands the public’s frustrations and the sense of urgency to make changes to the MBTA.

“[Eng] is clearly going to be someone who will hit the ground running,” Fiandaca said. “The search committee wanted someone who could walk in the door on day one and size up the situation.”

Nigel Wilson, professor emeritus in the department of civil and environmental engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said Eng’s background in both operations management and engineering make him a good choice for the position.

“Having someone with serious rail infrastructure experience under his belt will be very important in establishing more confidence that the job is being done well, given the problems that have been documented in the recent past,” Wilson said.

Wilson, who researches operations, planning and control of urban public transportation, said improving the conditions of the rail tracks should be “absolutely a top priority” because poor track conditions increase wait times for users.

In the long term, Wilson said he hopes to see developments in the city’s plan to restructure the bus system. These initiatives would be a challenge that would involve adapting the buses from diesel to electric and addressing the MBTA’s labor shortage, he said.

Eng said he hopes to encourage innovative solutions while also focusing on the basic goals of safety, reliability and communication. Eng said he will be a familiar face for riders of the MBTA, vowing to visit stations and communities across the city.

“I’ve heard this may be taboo here in Boston, but I genuinely welcome people to talk to me if you see me on the subway, on the bus, on the train,” Eng said. “And I’m going to come to you as well.”

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