Paul J. Wiedefeld, general manager and CEO of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, is stepping aside, effective immediately instead of June 30, as he had planned, according to a statement he released Monday night.
“I have decided to make my retirement effective today to provide a more timely transition to Interim General Manager Andy Off,” the statement says.
Wiedefeld was hired in November 2015 to lead the authority, which manages the Metrorail and Metrobus transportation systems in the Washington, D.C., region. On May 10, WMATA announced Randy Clarke as the next general manager.
Wiedefeld also accepted the resignation of Chief Operating Officer Joe Leader, also effective immediately.
“I believe conveying all authority of the General Manager’s office to Mr. Off better positions him to address the challenges that came to light this week, while preparing for the transition to the next CEO,” Wiedefeld said in a statement released by Metro. “Stepping aside a few weeks ahead of schedule is in the best interest of the agency and its workforce, whom I have been deeply proud to lead over the last six years.’
On Sunday, Metro announced it would remove 72 operators after finding that more than half of the system’s 500 rail operators have lapsed recertification. The Washington Metrorail Safety Commission identified the laspses in a recent review, which prompted Theresa M. Impastato, Metro’s executive vice president and chief safety officer, to further investigate.
“The WMATA Board of Directors received a safety briefing on Thursday that included learning that nearly half of all rail operators had lagging recertifications,” WMATA Board Chair Paul C. Smedberg said in a statement Sunday. “The Board finds this unacceptable and extremely disappointing. We support Metro management’s decision to immediately remove from service operators who became out of compliance more than a year ago as a first step. The Board directed Metro management to provide a full accounting of how and why this occurred and develop a plan to ensure it is remedied as fast as possible.”
With fewer operators, there is a reduction in service on the Green and Yellow lines, and extra trains to relieve crowding will not be available. Service is expected to be impacted until the end of May.
Metro estimates it will take two to three months to recertify more than 250 rail operators.
WMATA has had trials and tribulations during Wiedefeld’s tenure, particularly stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, when rider numbers plunged by 90% in 2020 and still have not recovered. Metro projects to be carrying about 75% of its former passengers by 2024. The agency also has had to sideline more than half of its rail cars since October 2021 due to a safety defect, which causes their wheels to widen from their axles and possibly run off track.
Wiedefeld also has overseen massive expansion of the Metrorail system, including the Dulles-bound Silver Line, reconstructing the platform at the Reagan Washington National Airport, building a new station at Potomac Yard and a second entrance to Arlington’s Crystal City Metro station, projects either completed or in progress. Wiedefeld said he expects to continue focusing on moving Metro’s headquarters, restoring full rail and bus service and opening the Silver Line extension. He also is credited for emphasizing safety through the SafeTrack program and developing a $2 billion annual capital program for repairs.
Before joining WMATA, he was CEO of BWI Airport and the Maryland Transit Administration.
“I thank Joe Leader for his tireless work and dedication, and I wish the men and women who move this city continued success. I am also very grateful to Metro’s customers, stakeholders, and board for your support,” he said in a statement released by Metro.
Metro Board Chair Paul C. Smedberg accepted the two resignations on behalf of the board of directors.
“The WMATA Board of Directors has accepted Paul Wiedefeld’s decision to make his retirement effective today. In addition, Chief Operating Officer Joe Leader has resigned, effective immediately,” Smedberg said in a statement.
“The Board appreciates Paul’s and Joe’s commitment to WMATA over the last six years. We feel the timing is right for Interim General Manager and CEO Andy Off to lead the organization through this critical transition period, with a continued emphasis on safety. Safety is and will continue to be our top priority. We will look to Andy’s leadership to ensure we continue on this path.”