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New York: Pioneering subway chief Nagaraja resigns

February 25, 2008 19:00 IST

Mysore L Nagaraja, who managed mass transit projects costing $20 billion for New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority, has resigned.

The 65-year-old engineer, who served as president of MTA Capital Construction, told rediff India Abroad that he will be working as a consultant to New York City and several metro transit projects in India, including the ones in Mumbai and New Delhi.

"There are a lot of exciting things happening in India," Nagaraja, who is better known as Mysore at the MTA, said.

"In a way, I feel I am reconnecting myself with India. My expertise is already being used there. I have already been consulting with Reliance Industries in the construction of metro systems in India. Now, I will have more time to give fuller attention to those ambitious projects," Nagaraja added.

He said he will also be a consultant on a programme aimed at providing sustained, cleaner water system to the city.

Nagaraja's resignation came amidst reports that soaring construction costs could force the MTA to scrap plans for an architecturally ambitious glass-domed subway station in Lower Manhattan.

The New York Times in its report had also predicted an over $1 billion cost overrun for the authority's major expansion projects.

When he became the president of the newly created Capital Construction over five years ago, he had said: 'These expansions projects are essential not just to New York City but to the region. It is something we want to leave our children and grandchildren."

Nagaraja said he was leaving the MTA a "happy man who has seen the challenging projects he had begun working on ready to take off. At my age, I know I cannot stay here forever."

"Besides, I want to do something other than being a management person. As a consultant, I can offer my services to projects not only in America but also in India," he added.

He will however remain with the MTA for another month, reviewing ways to cut back on several projects including the extension of the No 7 line and construction of a new subway line in the city.

Even as he was readying to assume the role of consultant, reports arrived that a bid to build a glass-and-steel station on Fulton Street and complete the work underground came in at $870 million, more than double the expected $408 million.

Nagaraja blamed the cost overrun on higher material costs and greater demand in the construction industry.

"I am leaving MTA with deep appreciation of the work I have been doing here," he said, adding a farewell party in his honor had drawn 700 people.

Five years ago, when the MTA created Capital Construction Company, several publications had written stories on how he faced the daunting task of overseeing a multibillion dollar capital improvement programme that was viewed as the key to the city's long term economic growth.

Most of the programmes are going to materialise on schedule, barring a few months' delay, MTA officials have said.

Nagaraja, who has an engineering degree from the University of Mysore, joined the New York transit system in 1985 and was rapidly promoted. He has an MS degree from Brigham Young University.

Helping to run and maintain 722 miles of track and 468 stations and transports over 7.5 million people each day was a job that had routinely gone to people who had grown up in America and had started their career in this country.

Nagaraja began his ascendancy within the transit system when he was appointed its chief engineer. His achievements have led to his being widely cited as an immigrant success story.

He has overseen the reconstruction of the 1/9 subway line, after the September 11 attacks.

Despite the extensive damage, the job was completed within a year and four days after the destruction of the World Trade Center, MTA officials said.

At any given time, Nagaraja says, he managed more than 400 construction and design projects, and during his tenure as senior vice president, more than 75 per cent of all projects were completed on time and within budget.

Before he joined the transit network as a project manager in 1985, Nagaraja managed a large capital construction projects for M W Kellogg Co for several years.

He is known to be passionate about his work. When a reporter asked him, recently, whether he takes his job with him wherever he goes, Nagaraja was quick to demur.

"No, not at all," he said. "I go home every day and don't think about work. My wife doesn't even believe that I have a job."

Arthur J Pais in New York