Metro GM Wiedefeld retires a month early; COO Leader resigns

Metro General Manager and CEO Paul Wiedefeld has retired over a month earlier than planned, and the D.C.-area transit agency’s Chief Operating Officer Joe Leader has stepped down effective immediately.

Wiedefeld, who was on the job for six years, said in a statement that he decided to start his retirement, originally slated for June 30, in order to provide a “more timely transition” to interim General Manager Andy Off before the transit agency’s new hire Randy Clarke takes over in July.

Off, in a statement, said that he has met with management and operations team members and has been briefed on the status of “several key safety matters.”

“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.

The news comes after the latest apparent safety blunder by Metro, which involved hundreds of Metro operators having lapsed recertifications.

“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,” Wiedefeld said.

The Metro Board of Directors has accepted Wiedefeld’s decision.

Leader, who was in charge of rail, bus and paratransit services, submitted his resignation Monday. He had been in his role since 2016. Both the Metro Board and Wiedefield accepted his resignation.

Metro Board Chair Paul C. Smedberg said in a statement that the timing gives Off the opportunity to lead the agency “with a continued emphasis on safety.”

On Sunday, Metro said nearly half of its 500 operators have lapsed recertifications, which serve as training lessons to ensure operators get a refresh on rules. In response to findings from the Washington Metrorail Safety Commission, Metro pulled 72 operators from service, which led to delays on the Green and Yellow lines Monday.

In a statement released Tuesday, The Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, which represents Metro operators, said Metro employees are not to blame for the lapsed certifications.

“We hope to provide some clarity on the rumors circulating about Metro,” a statement from the union said. “Local 689 has seen some news outlets report that rail operators ‘let their certifications expire’ or variations on that. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Recertifications for rail operations are not like going to the DMV to get your license renewed. These are programs run by the authority and managed by the authority that were not offered to our members.”

In response to Wiedefeld’s earlier-than-expected retirement, the union said it had a “positive working relationship” with Wiedefeld that “was able to solve many problems before they escalated.”

The statement went on to say: “We hope to continue this labor management partnership with the incoming General Manager and the WMATA Board of Directors. We are fully committed to building a 21st century public transit system that makes this entire region proud. We know how valuable WMATA is to this region and we’ll work with anyone and everyone that helps this system realize its full potential.”

Last week, the agency announced Clarke as its new general manager. Metro did not say if his start date would be pushed up following Leader and Wiedefeld’s departures.

Metro has been running limited service on all lines since last fall amid an ongoing investigation into a derailment on the Blue Line that turned up a problem with the wheelsets on Metro’s fleet of 7000-series rail cars.

The safety commission ordered all 7000-series cars — which account for 60% of Metro’s fleet — out of passenger service.

WTOP’s Jack Moore contributed to this report.

José Umaña

José Umaña is a digital editor for WTOP. He’s been working as a journalist for almost a decade, covering local news, education and sports. His work has appeared in The Prince George’s Sentinel, The Montgomery Sentinel, Orlando Sentinel, PressBox and The Diamondback.

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