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Four Transit Veterans Appointed as New MBTA Leadership, Will Oversee Stations, Infrastructure, Engineering, Capital, Operations, Safety

Posted on July 27, 2023

Each new key hire holds multiple decades of transit experience.

Dennis Varley is the new Chief of Stations; Sam Zhou is the new Assistant General Manager of Engineering and Capital; Doug Connett is the new Chief of Infrastructure; and Rod Brooks is the new Senior Advisor for Capital, Operations, and Safety.

Today the MBTA announced the appointment of four transit industry veterans into new leadership positions at the T responsible for stations, infrastructure, engineering, capital program enhancement, operations, and safety. Starting within their positions later this summer, Dennis Varley is the new Chief of Stations, Sam Zhou is the new Assistant General Manager of Engineering and Capital, Doug Connett is the new Chief of Infrastructure, and Rod Brooks is the new Senior Advisor for Capital, Operations, and Safety. 

Through the appointment of these new roles, the MBTA aims to close management gaps and improve the quality, reliability, and safety of T services. Varley, Zhou, Connett, and Brooks are seasoned, proven transit leaders with dozens of decades of experience making productive, long-lasting impacts during their transit tenures. 

In addition to these four new leaders, the MBTA also announced several new, internal role changes that represent a significant investment in the General Manager’s commitment to improving service quality for riders: 

  • Katie Choe, Acting Chief of Staff,  
  • Meredith Sandberg, Acting Chief of the Quality, Compliance, and Oversight Office,
  • Angel Donahue-Rodriguez, Assistant General Manager of External Affairs,
  • Frenia Hunter, Division Chief of Training,
  • Sean Mills, Assistant General Manager, Bus Operations, 
  • Patrick Richmond, Assistant General Manager, Rail.

“Since joining the MBTA, I have continued to experience first-hand how our system operates, both as General Manager and as a daily T rider. I understand the gravity of resolving our safety issues, and I am committed to restoring public faith in our system and bringing our infrastructure back to a state of good repair that is safe, reliable, and meets the needs of our riders,” said MBTA General Manager and CEO Phillip Eng. “Today, I join the rest of the T’s dedicated workforce in welcoming Dennis, Sam, Doug, and Rod to the MBTA, and appreciating the work of Katie, Meredith, Angel, Frenia, Sean, and Patrick. We have added significant combined decades of transportation experience to the team, and it is important to note that I also believe deeply in the team that we have already at the T. Each of the new hires and internal role changes has a wealth of experience and expertise in multimodal public transportation that I am pleased to see deployed at the T in order to deliver on our commitment to our riders.”

With over 30 years in the transit industry, Dennis Varley is the MBTA’s new Chief of Stations, a newly created role with the critical responsibility of ensuring all MBTA stations provide riders and employees with the safest and best user experience. The Chief of Stations ensures station safety, security, and cleanliness. The role will also address station concerns raised by riders and employees and ensure in-station customer communications are clear, timely, and informative. The Chief of Stations’ efforts will help to avert recent station issues such as the ceiling incidents on the Red Line and the standpipe issue at Charles/MGH station.

With diverse managerial experience in both operations and administration, Varley comes to the MBTA most recently from the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) Long Island Rail Road (LIRR), where he served in high-level engineering leadership roles, including Deputy Chief Engineer, Assistant Chief Engineer-Structures, and Assistant Chief Facilities Operations Officer. Within these previous roles, Varley ensured a number of different Authority goals, including that department-wide safety programs were in place and adhered to, that daily operational issues were managed, and by directing and supporting the development of departmental strategies and goals. Varley also brings to the T robust experience in rider, public, municipal, and stakeholder engagement. Previous to his time at the MBTA LIRR, Varley began his career in the public transit sector in various roles for the MTA New York City Transit Authority (NYCTA)’s Facilities & Environmental Operations team and Division of Material. Varley holds a Bachelor of Business Administration in Management from Adelphi University.

“I’m excited to join the MBTA and look forward to assisting General Manager Eng and the team in their continued efforts to improve the T’s stations and infrastructure,” said Varley. “Together, we can help bring the system into a state of good repair that riders, the public, and the workforce are proud of.”

Reporting directly to the General Manager, Sam Zhou will be the MBTA’s new Assistant General Manager of Engineering and Capital, who is responsible for the safe engineering and delivery of MBTA assets. Zhou will oversee the planning, engineering, and execution of engineering, construction infrastructure, and Capital Investment Plan (CIP) programs, including asset planning and management. 

With more than 30 years in transportation project development, operations, and asset management, Zhou joins the MBTA most recently from the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT), where he served as Assistant Commissioner for Operations, Regional Affairs, and Asset Management, overseeing eleven regional offices, a workforce of 6,500, and managing regional resources to maintain and operate 110,000 miles of New York State transportation infrastructure as part of NYSDOT’s $32.8 billion, five-year capital program. Zhou also previously held senior leadership positions at NYSDOT as Regional Director of the Capital Region, Executive Assistant to the Commissioner within the Office of the Commissioner, and Deputy Director – Major Project Management in the Office of Design. Zhou has years of experience in developing and delivering major capital projects and interacting with federal partners and railroad companies, including Lower Hudson Transit Link, Albany-Schenectady Double Track, Schenectady Amtrak Station, and others. Zhou holds a Master of Business Administration from the State University of New York at Albany’s School of Business, a Master of Science in Civil Engineering from the University of Cincinnati, and a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering from Zhejiang University of Technology. Zhou also holds a license as a professional engineer in New York and Vermont.

“I am truly honored and excited to join the MBTA as the Chief of Engineering and Capital,” said Zhou. “I look forward to working closely with the talented team at the MBTA to plan, engineer, and execute vital infrastructure projects, contributing to the enhancement of public transportation in the Boston area. We will continue to build a sustainable and resilient transit system together that serves the needs of the community and enhances the overall passenger experience.”

Reporting to the Chief of Operations, Doug Connett is the MBTA’s new Chief of Infrastructure. This new position will provide direction to the entire Infrastructure Directorate, which is comprised of over 1,000 employees within the track, signals and communications, power, facilities, and logistics teams. Connett will be responsible for executing programs to improve service quality, reduce costs, increase employee productivity, and increase revenue and ridership.

Connett has nearly four decades of operations, safety, and maintenance experience in the public transit industry, most recently joining the MBTA from a state safety and security consulting firm and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, where he has served as Vice President and Assistant Chief Safety Officer of Operations and Investigations. Beginning his career in 1985 at the NYCTA and MTA as an NYCTA Level I Track Construction Supervisor, Connett was promoted up the ranks, working in track construction and maintenance before ultimately becoming the Vice President and Chief Officer of the NYCTA MTA’s Staten Island Railway in 2014. A United States Army Reserve veteran, Connett also attended the College of Staten Island as a Science major, possesses professional credits in project management, and is an instructor certified by the Department of Transportation’s Transit Safety Security Program (Rail).

“I’m excited to join the team as we work toward improving safety, service, and reliability,” said Connett. “Fully believing in a hands-on approach, I’m looking forward to working directly with the team and workforce as we execute critical safety improvements, infrastructure programs, and culture change.”

Rod Brooks has been named as a new Senior Advisor for Capital, Operations, and Safety. He will assist with leading the Rail Operations team in making purposeful capital, operations, and safety decisions. As a Senior Advisor to the team, Brooks will help ensure the on-schedule and on-budget management of the Capital Delivery Program, the South Coast Rail project, and other key Capital Program initiatives.

With over 32 years of rail experience, Brooks has spearheaded organizational efforts, navigated significant safety challenges, and developed programs recognized industry-wide, among other accomplishments. Brooks most recently served as Senior Vice President of Operations at the LIRR, holding additional LIRR operations leadership positions as Executive Director – ESA Harold Operations and Chief Transportation Officer. A veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, Brooks began his transit career as an entry-level Assistant Railroad Signalman before ascending into higher-level roles. With further executive education from Columbia Business School, Brooks completed a Master’s in Human Resources from SUNY-Stony Brook University and a Bachelor of Arts in Business Management and Economics from SUNY-Empire State University. Brooks also serves on the Bluffton, South Carolina, Rotary Club Board of Directors and the Royal Live Oak Academy Charter School Board of Directors in Jasper County, South Carolina.

“I look forward to joining the MBTA and being back in public service with a great deal of professional pride,” said Brooks. “I am happy to assist General Manager and CEO Phil Eng, who I had the privilege of working with previously, and his team as they work to improve the safety, reliability, and performance of the system through Capital Program initiatives. I am hopeful that my experience and background add value to all facets of the organization where I might be of use and I am looking forward to getting to work.”

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