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Rail News Home Passenger Rail

June 2022

Rail News: Passenger Rail

WMATA execs step down in wake of safety report

Yellow and Green line riders waited up to 20 minutes longer than usual due to operators being removed from service for training.
Photo – Kelleher Photography /


By Grace Renderman, Associate Editor

Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority General Manager and CEO Paul Wiedefeld and Chief Operations Officer Joe Leader stepped down May 16 after the Washington Metrorail Safety Commission (WMSC) issued a report detailing lapses in recertification status for about half of the agency’s 500 rail operators. 

Wiedefeld had planned to retire in June. 

Andy Off is serving as interim GM and CEO until Randy Clarke, who was named the agency’s next top executive a week before Wiedefeld resigned, takes the leadership reins in late summer. Most recently, Clarke has been president and CEO of the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority in Austin, Texas. 

Operators skipped training due to pandemic

About 250 WMATA rail operators have lapsed in safety recertification for more than a year, according to the WMSC report titled “Metrorail’s Improper Power Restoration.” WMATA rail operators are required to renew their safety certification through training courses every two years, with refresher training occurring every other year. Refresher training had paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and many operators were given waivers that repeatedly allowed them to bypass recertification requirements, WMSC found. 

The agency put on temporary leave 72 operators whose certification had lapsed before May 2021 so that they could become recertified. The recertification process of 250 train operators is expected to take two to three months and involves reviewing the rules of the job and reinforcing knowledge. 

Rail workers also repeatedly cut corners and skipped necessary, life-saving steps during restoration of power procedures before the beginning of morning train service following overnight work in areas where electric power was temporarily cut, according to the WMSC report. Knowing how to properly return to service in a previously established work zone is part of the transit agency’s safety training. 

“[WMATA] is continuing to put its personnel at risk of serious injury or death by repeatedly bypassing safety redundancies,” the WMSC report states. 

Green and Yellow line service has been affected because many of the operators now on leave worked on those lines. During a temporary one-week service reduction in mid-May, riders waited up to 20 minutes longer than usual for a train to arrive. 

“While [the agency] has made strides in recent years, this issue demonstrates that more work must be done to ensure an organization-wide safety culture,” said WMATA Chair Paul Smedberg. 

WMSC has cited WMATA for safety deficiencies in the past. In May 2020, the commission reported personnel not following safety procedures with turning power systems back on. In January 2021, WMSC reported more personnel circumvented interim safety procedures.  

“[WMATA] ... continues to ignore processes and procedures that [WMATA] intended to make the system safer,” the May 2022 report states.

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