After six years on the job, Metro General Manager and CEO Paul Wiedefeld is retiring, the transit agency said Tuesday.
“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, 66, said in a statement.
His retirement will take effect in six months, Metro said.
Board of Directors Chair Paul C. Smedberg said in the statement that Wiedefeld stepped into the job during “very dark days” for the transit agency, and that he was “the right man at the right time.”
Smedberg said the board would conduct a national search for Wiedefeld’s successor and will start discussing the succession plan at its public meeting Feb. 10.
U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly, of Virginia, said in a statement that “Paul Wiedefeld took over WMATA at a time when all lights were blinking red, and the reality remains that our region has a ways to go to restore confidence in Metro. It is imperative that the next General Manger of Metro bring transit expertise and a willingness to tackle the culture of mediocrity that has plagued this system. Failure to do so will cause a backslide in the progress Wiedefeld made.”
The Metro workers’ union, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, said in a statement that even though their early relationship with Wiedefeld was one of “constant conflict between our vision for the future of public transit in this region and his,” including a vote authorizing a strike in 2018, “We’re proud to say that over the last two years, we have had a productive working relationship that has allowed us to resolve many of these disputes amicably before they rose to the level of open conflict.”
While the union said they still have differences with Wiedefeld, “We’re confident in saying that the open line of communication that GM Paul Wiedefeld has maintained with us over the past two years has helped avoid problems and deliver better service to the riding public.” They added that they hoped the board would consider the benefits of that open communication, while choosing a successor.
While many agree that Wiedefeld was the “right man at the right time,” NBC Washington transportation reporter Adam Tuss said that 7000 Series rail car issue will be his legacy.
The cars have been ordered out of service following an investigation into a derailment on the Blue Line that revealed a wheel defect, which was a problem Metro knew about going back to 2017.
Before all the issue with the defect came, Tuss said some might argue that Wiedefeld was doing a very good job turning the transit agency around — improving the safety culture, repairing the rails through all the SafeTrack operations and fixing the platforms.
“But at the end of the day, all of that seems just like kind of talk when you go back and look at this 7000 Series issues, which is going to linger over and over again, just because Metro leaders knew about this problem and it was swept under the rug, for lack of a better word,” Tuss said.
WTOP’s Abigail Constantino and Dimitri Sotis contributed to this report.