MTA Long Island Rail Road (LIRR)
Ms. Helena E. Williams ’81, President of MTA Long Island Rail Road
and long-time Nassau County resident, is the first woman to lead
the nation’s busiest commuter railroad. Married to her St.
John’s Law School sweetheart Paul R. Williams, she is the mother of
three children. Her career has been defined by top-level
experience in transportation and Long Island public service.
A St. John’s lawyer by training, Ms. Williams began her career in
New York City working for Mayor Edward Koch in the Mayor’s Office
of Municipal Labor Relations. After a brief tenure in private
practice, Ms. Williams began a fruitful career at the MTA in 1985
where she rose from labor counsel to chief of staff of Long Island
Bus before assuming the position of President of Long Island Bus in
1993. During her five years at the helm of the bus company,
Ms. Williams oversaw an array of innovations and improvements to
customer service. These included: the implementation of
Metrocard technologies, the transition to a fleet of clean
eco-friendly buses, and the development of an employee availability
program that dramatically cut costs.
Under Ms. Williams’ leadership, the LIRR recently reached an
all-time record on time performance of 95.14% and has won high
marks for improving customer communication through the
establishment of a 24-hour Public Information Office. The
LIRR employs 6,800 employees and runs a system comprising more than
700 miles of track on 11 different branches, stretching from
Montauk to Penn Station. The 175-year-old railroad has a $1.4
billion dollar operating budget and served a record 87.4 million
customers in 2008.
Ms. Williams, who always wanted to be an attorney thanks to Perry
Mason, gravitated towards coursework involving collective
bargaining, labor relations and employment law. Ms. Williams’
St. John’s legal education prepared her for the challenges facing
an individual responsible for providing vital services to a
customer base that demands premier service.
Reflecting on the earlier years of her career, Ms. Williams
counsels new graduates to, “…remain flexible in your career search
efforts. You must maintain a broad vision of where you wish
to be in the future and acknowledge that there are many paths to a
goal. In your earliest positions, demonstrate a quality work
product and trust in the education that you received at St. John’s
Active in the community, Ms. Williams is a member of the board of
directors for the Long Island Association, a member of the American
Public Transit Association and a Member of the Tri-State CEO Rail
Association. In 1999, Ms. Williams was inducted into the New
York Public Transit Hall of Fame. Ms. Williams was recognized
in 2009 by the Long Island Business News as one of the 50 Most
Influential Women on Long Island.