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Ex-transit boss Andy Byford returns to US to run Amtrak’s high-speed program after stint in London

Byford’s back.

Former chief of the city’s subways and buses Andy Byford — who turned around the system only to be forced out by then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo — will lead Amtrak’s nascent high speed rail expansion, the railroad announced Thursday.

The appointment comes after Byford recently returned to New York from London, where he oversaw the completion of the city’s $22 billion Elizabeth Line system, knitting together two commuter rail lines that’ll run through the heart of the city.

“In his new role, Andy will develop and lead the execution of our long-term strategy for [high speed rail],” Amtrak CEO Stephen Gardner wrote in an internal announcement. “Andy is widely respected in the industry and has a wealth of experience leading large transportation systems worldwide.”

Byford referred requests for comment to his new agency.

The appointment comes as the national railroad gets some of the biggest injections of funding since it was created in the 1970s after spending deals struck between President Joe Biden and Congress.

The infrastructure bill passed in 2021 contains $66 billion for Amtrak and the Federal Railroad Administration for rail-related projects, including $22 billion set aside specifically for Amtrak improvements and modernization.

The money will help pay for the replacement of the Nixon-era train cars used by the railroad for regional service in the Northeast corridor — the busiest in the country.

The corridor is also home to Amtrak’s only high-speed service, the Acela, which is getting brand-new, lighter and faster trains that are being tested and are expected to enter service this fall.

“We’re happy to share our ‘Train Daddy’ back and we’re happy to share him and his expertise with the rest of America,” said Lisa Daglian, the head of the MTA’s Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee.

“There are a lot of really important projects underway and to-be-developed, like bringing Amtrak to Long Island and getting the East River tunnels done, things that have an impact on tens-of-thousands of MTA riders,” Daglian said. “It’ll help to have someone who knows the systems, who knows Amtrak and who knows the MTA working to get it done.”

Byford became a household name in the city when he was hired by then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo to fix the subway system, after years of deferred maintenance and turmoil at the top led to service meltdowns in 2016 and 2017.

Byford quickly outlined a series of short and long-term initiatives aimed at getting the trains back on schedule:

He ordered a review of seemingly-arbitrary speed limits placed around the system that unnecessarily slowed trains; focused train operations on shortening stops to speed commutes and prevent logjams across the system; and reorganized how stations are managed to improve cleanliness and more quickly respond to complaints.

Byford also outlined a $40 billion program to replace the subway system’s decades-old and problem-plagued stoplight-based signal system with a modern computerized system that allows rains to run more safely, quickly and closer together.

Longtime MTA staffers — from train drivers and station cleaners to the suits at the agency’s downtown headquarters — offered plaudits for Byford and his management style, which helped restore morale.

He also quickly earned the affection of the public by regularly riding the system wearing a name-tag and a smile, offering straphangers some hope amid torturous commutes.

An artist in Brooklyn drew up stickers with Byford’s face on the front of a train and affectionally called the transit chief “Train Daddy.”

Cuomo took notice and publicly scorned Byford for it.

The governor belittled Byford’s signals program and organized an infamous press conference in which he floated hiring Elon Musk to manufacture a wireless system; held meetings with Byford’s subordinates but never invited his transit chief; and eventually ordered up an MTA reorganization that stripped Byford of many of his responsibilities.

Byford quit in January 2020, blasting Cuomo on the way out the door.

“”It’s the governor’s prerogative to see whomever he wants, I get that, but I just would not accept the fact that my people were being yelled at, they were being given direction and I was deliberately excluded from those meetings,” he told WCBS-TV in an interview shortly after his departure. “That’s just not right.”

He was swiftly hired to be London’s transportation commissioner, overseeing the roads, rails and buses in the British capital through the coronavirus pandemic.

The MTA kept pursuing most of his programs after he left, even though several of them were rebranded to be part of Cuomo’s “Subway Action Plan.

The agency announced another batch of subway speed limit increases last year, bringing faster service to the A and the 2, 3, 4, 5 trains.

Meanwhile, work on the new signals system, known as CBTC, continues.

Installation of CBTC is underway on the Eight Avenue subway to help improve reliability of the A, C and E trains. Officials recently added the Fulton Street subway through Brooklyn, which means the A and C will have the digital dispatching for most of their routes.

The Sixth Avenue subway is also slated to get CBTC, which the MTA hopes will help upgrade the performance of the B/D/F/M trains through Manhattan.

This article originally appeared on New York Post

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