Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld, who was instrumental in boosting revenues for the beleaguered transit agency upon taking the helm in 2015 after a passenger died in a smoke-filled train, announced Tuesday to the board of directors that he will retire in six months.
Wiedefeld, 66, who worked as chief executive at the Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport before coming to Metro, led one of the busiest transit agencies in the nation with 91 rail stations and 1,500 buses traveling throughout D.C., Maryland and Virginia.
“Forty-plus years in transportation teaches you that there is no set mile marker for this decision, but given the seismic shifts happening in transit and the region, Metro needs a leader who can commit to several years of service and set a new course,” Wiedefeld said in a statement. “This gives the board time to identify a successor and ensures an orderly management transition.”
Before leaving Metro, Wiedefeld said he will continue to work on the Silver Line extension in Northern Virgina and relocating the agency’s headquarters from northwest D.C. near Gallery Place to L’Enfant Plaza in southwest D.C.
In the first year of his more than six-year tenure, Wiedefeld oversaw the agency’s SafeTrack maintenance project, an encompassing overhaul of the Metrorail system that took one year to complete.
In 2018, Wiedefeld helped the agency receive approval from state lawmakers in Maryland and Virginia and D.C. officials for an additional $500 million annually toward capital improvements.
During the past three months, however, fewer trains are running because of a defect found on the wheels of the modern 7000-series trains after one of them derailed along the Blue Line on Oct. 12 near the Arlington Cemetery station in Northern Virginia. No one was injured, but a federal investigation continues.
In addition, bus service has been curtailed due to a workforce ravaged by the highly contagious omicron variant of the coronavirus.
As of Tuesday, the two states and the District account for 2.4 million confirmed COVID-19 cases since the pandemic’s outset in early 2020. Virginia’s estimated total stands at 1.4 million, while Maryland has reported roughly 909,000 cases and D.C. has 126,000.
Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, which represents much of Metro’s workforce, said in a statement that its relationship with Wiedefeld evolved over the past two years from one of “constant conflict” to “productive.”
“The next general manager should learn from Wiedefeld’s working relationship with ATU Local 689 if [they] hope to avoid some of the mistakes made in his early days,” the union said in the statement. “The next few years ahead will be challenging, but we’re confident in saying that WMATA is a better system when it values and listens to the opinions of those that do the work that keeps this region moving.”
About 15 of the Metrorail stations are in Prince George’s County, Maryland. In addition, thousands of Metro employees reside in the majority-Black jurisdiction.
County Council member Todd Turner said Wiedefeld served as a “steady hand” for Metro, especially over the past two years amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“We need to have that conversation on what our transit system is going to look like in the future,” said Turner, who also serves on the bi-county Washington Suburban Transit Commission. “We’re not going to go back to the way it was. We need somebody that understands that and [is] willing to work with all the stakeholders. … It’s not going to be easy.”
Paul Smedberg, who chairs the Metro board, said a public discussion to conduct a national search for Wiedefeld’s replacement will take place on Feb. 10.
“There is no doubt that Paul Wiedefeld was the right man at the right time to guide Metro out of very dark days,” Smedberg said in a statement. “Paul is an extraordinary executive and the board deeply appreciates his effective leadership and, most recently, his collaboration with us as we worked together to overcome an unprecedented set of challenges during the pandemic.”