Metro

New commuter rail maintenance chief has no experience with trains

A machinist for Keolis used a power washer to clean the snow and ice buildup off the undercarriage of a commuter train in February.
Sean Proctor/Globe Staff/File
A machinist for Keolis used a power washer to clean the snow and ice buildup off the undercarriage of a commuter train in February.

Keolis Commuter Services, the embattled French-owned company that runs the commuter rail for the MBTA, has hired a new chief to oversee the maintenance of the T’s aging and balky fleet of trains.

But Kenneth A. Trahan, who started June 22 as the company’s chief mechanical officer, had no previous experience in the railroad industry.

Trahan has nearly 40 years of experience in transportation, but his expertise lies with planes, not trains. Trahan used to serve as maintenance director for United Airlines in both Boston and Cleveland, according to officials from Keolis Commuter Services.

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For nearly 10 months, Keolis had operated without a chief mechanical officer after the departure of the previous appointee, who had been chosen in May. The new hire comes as riders continue to cope with late trains after relentless snowstorms battered the local transit system this winter.

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The interim general manager of the T, Frank DePaola, praised Trahan in a statement, but also said the T would “closely monitor his performance,” as well as the company’s performance.

Mac Daniel, a spokesman for Keolis, said that the T and Keolis did not believe the new chief mechanical officer needed to come from the railroad industry to tackle the issues facing the transit system.

“Ken Trahan’s deep background in running complex mechanical operations safely and efficiently is what impressed us, regardless of whether it was for airplanes or trains,” Daniel said in a written statement.

Trahan reiterated the point, saying the objectives of the airline industry and the passenger railroad industry are similar.

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“Mechanical reliability is paramount to delivering a great product and I will leverage my aircraft maintenance management experience in my new role, closely collaborating with the various unions, the MBTA, MassDOT and the Keolis management team,” Trahan said in a written statement.

Keolis officials also pointed to Trahan’s “critical leadership role” at United Airlines, one of the world’s largest airlines. While the maintenance director at United, Trahan managed a $38 million budget and was able to cut down the amount of overtime and sick time workers used, according to a copy of his resume provided by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.

At Keolis, the chief mechanical officer oversees the maintenance of the fleet, train safety, and compliance with federal regulations, among other duties. The job is particularly important for Keolis, which must deal with outdated trains and tracks owned by the MBTA.

While the position remained vacant at Keolis for much of the year, the deputy general manager picked up the duties of the chief mechanical officer. Gerald Francis, the current general manager, served in that position before replacing Thomas Mulligan. Franck Dubourdieu, who worked for Keolis in France, then took over as deputy general manager.

Thomas Murray, the president of one of the commuter rail’s labor groups, said he has yet to meet Trahan. Asked whether he was concerned about Trahan’s lack of rail experience, Murray said he did not want to make any premature judgments.

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But Murray, who leads the Transport Workers Union Local 2054, said he remains worried that the company, which operates one of the largest commuter rail operations in the country, could not attract someone within the railroad industry for the job.

‘Mechanical reliability is paramount to delivering a great product and I will leverage my aircraft maintenance management experience.’

Kenneth A. Trahan, Keolis chief mechanical officer 

“It says volumes about the problems that we’re facing right now,” Murray said.

Nicole Dungca can be reached at nicole.dungca@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ndungca.