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Former rail boss George Warrington dead at 55

(The following story by William Lamb appeared at NorthJersey.com on December 25.)

George D. Warrington, the former NJ Transit executive director who eased overcrowding on the system's trains and helped jump-start plans for a new rail tunnel under the Hudson River, died Monday at his home in Mendham. He was 55.

The cause was pancreatic cancer, according to his brother, Marc.

Warrington "was passionate about getting people out of their cars and onto mass transit, for the good of everyone," his brother said.

He brought a focus on customer service and a sharp eye for detail when he arrived at NJ Transit in 2002 from Amtrak, where he had spent four years as president and chief executive officer.

He took control of the state's transit system at a time when its commuter trains were severely overcrowded at peak hours. Ignoring the conventional wisdom that the system was at its breaking point, Warrington added 100 trains and pressed the agency to accelerate the turnaround time for cars that needed maintenance.

But Warrington's lasting legacy and most remarkable accomplishment, colleagues said, was convincing public officials in New York of the need for a new rail tunnel under the Hudson River. When it is built, the $8 billion tunnel will double the number of NJ Transit and Amtrak trains entering Penn Station in New York, easing gridlock and making room to expand service.

Before Warrington got involved, the tunnel was considered strictly a New Jersey project, said Martin Robins, a senior fellow at the Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center at Rutgers University.

"He performed what I consider to be a miracle in winning over New Yorkers to the importance of the project," Robins said.

Richard Sarles, who succeeded Warrington as NJ Transit's executive director in April, agreed.

"He took a project that was basically being planned in New Jersey and took it to New York, and the folks in New York City and New York State came to understand, through George's personal efforts, the tremendous value it has as a regional project," Sarles said.

The tunnel will provide a direct link to New York City for North Jersey rail commuters, allowing them to ride into Penn Station without changing trains in Secaucus. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has committed $3 billion toward the tunnel's construction, and New Jersey has committed $1 billion from its Transportation Trust Fund, making the project eligible for federal matching funds.

Born in Bayonne

Warrington was born in Bayonne and grew up in Ridgefield Park, the son of an architect and a homemaker. He attended Ridgefield Park High School and Syracuse University, where he received a bachelor's degree in journalism and a master's degree in public administration.

He joined the state Department of Transportation as a special assistant to its commissioner, Louis Gambaccini. One of his first projects was managing the successful bond issue referendum that raised the capital to start NJ Transit.

For the duration of the 1980s, Warrington served as vice president and general manager of NJ Transit's rail operations. He was promoted to deputy commissioner and chief of staff in 1990, leaving the agency two years later to become the executive director of the Delaware River Port Authority.

Warrington joined Amtrak in 1994 as chief executive for the Northeast Corridor. He was named Amtrak's corporate president and CEO in 1998.

At Amtrak, Warrington presided over the introduction of the Acela high-speed train, which shortened the trip between New York and Washington to just over 21⁄2 hours. He involved himself "in every last detail" of the project, said Sarles, who worked under Warrington at Amtrak before following him to NJ Transit.

Acela was plagued with problems at the outset, however, including coaches that were too wide to use their tilt mechanisms, which slowed travel time. Warrington also took control of Amtrak as it was coming under intense pressure from Congress to become self-supporting.

A rush-hour rush

Consumed by politics at Amtrak, Warrington told The Record that he returned to NJ Transit in part because he missed the thrill of running a commuter railroad.

"The entire apparatus of the place is focused on the morning and the evening, and it is high intensity," he said. "Minutes matter."

Late last year, he introduced six bi-level rail cars on the Northeast Corridor, each of which increased capacity by more than 15 percent while eliminating the unpopular middle seat. The European-style double-decker cars have been a hit with commuters, and the fleet is expected to grow to 243 in 2008.

A New York Rangers fanatic, Warrington had the team's logo tattooed on his arm and was a season-ticket holder for many years. He gave up his seats when he moved to suburban Maryland to join Amtrak.

Warrington told The Record in April that he was leaving NJ Transit in better shape than it was when he took over, adding that he had positioned it to grow.

"I feel like we will have made a difference," he said.

Warrington is survived by his wife, Hope; a son, David, of Sayreville; two stepdaughters, Brittany and Kendall of Mendham; and a brother, Marc, of Great Meadows. His marriage to Angela Warrington ended in divorce.

Funeral arrangements were pending Monday.

(Staff Writer Jay Levin contributed to this article.)

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

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