Metro (WMATA)

Metro General Manager Retires Weeks Early, COO Resigns Amid Operator ‘Safety Issue'

The departures come after WMATA said “nearly half of Metro’s 500 rail operators” have lapsed recertification

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Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld retired weeks early and the agency’s Chief Operating Officer Joe Leader resigned after the revelation that many rail operators’ recertification had lapsed.

Wiedefeld was supposed to retire at the end of June but handed in his resignation late Monday. The Metro board accepted that resignation.

Interim General Manager and CEO Andy Off will take the helm until transit veteran Randy Clarke, who currently heads Austin's transit system, takes over. Clarke was announced as the next general manager last week.

“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.

Wiedefeld said Monday that he accepted Leader’s resignation, which went into effect immediately.

Metro Board Chair Paul Smedberg issued a statement Monday night on the departure of the agency's top two leaders.

"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,” Smedburg said.

“My mission during this transition is clear, and I am focused on our safety challenges, as well as restoring the 7000-series railcars for our customers and advancing Silver Line phase two," Off said in a statement. 

Metro will reduce service on Green and Yellow line trains while it works on recertifying rail operators, the transit agency said. The impacts are expected until the end of May. News4's Darcy Spencer reports.

Metrorail Operators Recertification Lapse Is ‘Unacceptable,” Board Chair Said

The shakeup comes a day after Metro announced it would remove 72 train operators from service for retraining and overdue recertification. The move led to lengthy delays on the Green and Yellow lines.

“Nearly half of Metro’s 500 rail operators” have lapsed recertification, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) said Sunday.

Sources with direct knowledge of the training process said there is no way Metro leaders didn’t know so many train operators needed to complete safety courses. The training includes classroom-style teachings and real-world scenarios and problem-solving such as how to respond to issues with doors or brakes.

This could have turned into a massive legal issue if it had not been caught and an uncertified train operator was involved in an accident, one source told News4.

Smedberg said rider safety is at stake.

”The board finds this very unacceptable and extremely disappointing. You know, it’s a safety issue in our view,” he said.

The board sets agency policy and oversees funding, operations and expansions.

Mayor Muriel Bowser expressed frustration, saying Metro needs to answer for the issue.

“We expect that WMATA will provide the public with a full understanding of how this happened and how they will prevent it from happening again in the future,” she said in a tweet. “This is not a funding issue; it is a management problem."

In this Recap, News4 Transportation reporter Adam Tuss takes deep dive into the Metro challenges and priorities for incoming general manager Randy Clarke.

Missteps at Metro

The recertification lapse is the latest episode in a series of missteps at the nation’s third-largest transit agency going back to last year.

In October, a Blue Line train derailed, forcing Metro to pull its 7000 series trains out of service.

Delays to the long-awaited Silver Line project were announced in March, followed by this week’s staffing shortage due to operators being out of compliance.

Wiedefeld announced his retirement in January saying he would step down on June 30.

In a statement Monday, he said: “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.”

Stay with NBC Washington for more on this developing story.

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