The MTA is replacing the Long Island Rail Road chief in the midst of heated negotiations with its unions, two months before a strike deadline that could leave commuters stranded this summer.

Patrick Nowakowski will replace LIRR President Helena Williams next month, Metropolitan Transportation Authority CEO Thomas Prendergast announced Wednesday in a news release.

“Pat Nowakowski is a railroad expert with a rare mix of skills and a long career of accomplishments,” Prendergast said, adding that he thanked Williams for her service. “I trust Pat to enhance the railroad’s operational excellence and emphasize safety and reliability as it confronts new challenges in the coming years.”

Williams, the first female LIRR president, has led the nation’s largest commuter railroad for nearly seven years.

Nowakowski, a former Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority manager, previously served as executive director of the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project, also known as the Silver Line—a 23-mile connection to the Washington, D.C. Metro system.

“The Long Island Rail Road is a public transportation resource like no other,” Nowakowski said. “Tom has made clear that my job is to make sure the railroad lives up to high expectations every single day, while also planning its future growth to improve the service we provide to Long Islanders.”

Those goals include successfully completing the Double Track project along the Main Line, hardening infrastructure against the threat of future storms after Sandy and prepare completing the long-awaited East Side Access project, Prendergast said.

“It’s been a privilege to have served as LIRR President,” Williams said. “I am deeply grateful to the men and women of the LIRR and to my leadership team who have worked tirelessly to meet the needs of our customers and help modernize the LIRR’s operations.”

Mark Epstein, chair of the Long Island Railroad Commuter Council, credited Williams with making the LIRR more transparent and responsive.

“As a Long Islander, Helena has been aware of the landscape and has worked to improve travel for all LIRR commuters,” he said. “We have found the lines of communication open on a daily basis and throughout her term of service, Ms. Williams has welcomed our suggestions and has worked to provide us with information needed to facilitate our council work.”

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Timothy Bolger is the Editor in Chief of the Long Island Press who’s been working to uncover unreported stories since shortly after it launched in 2003. When he’s not editing, getting hassled by The Man or fielding cold calls to the newsroom, he covers crime, general interest and political news in addition to reporting longer, sometimes investigative features. He won’t be happy until everyone is as pissed off as he is about how screwed up Lawn Guyland is.