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The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority announced yesterday that General Manager and CEO Paul Wiedefeld will retire immediately, ahead of his planned retirement. In addition, Chief Operating Officer Joe Leader has resigned, effective immediately.
The departures come after the Washington Metrorail Safety Commission discovered that nearly half of WMATA's 500 rail operators have lapsed on their recertification.
"[WMATA] is continuing to put its personnel at risk of serious injury or death by repeatedly bypassing safety redundancies in power restoration procedures that [WMATA] has deliberately designed for the safety of its employees, contractors and first responders," the commission wrote in its May 17 report, "Metrorail's Improper Power Restoration."
The transit agency will remove from service 72 train operators who became out of compliance prior to May 2021, WMATA officials said May 15 in a press release. The removals will impact Green and Yellow line service due to the operator shortage by increasing wait times from five to 20 minutes.
"The board is deeply concerned about the impact this operator shortage may have on our customers and the region," said WMATA Chair Paul Smedberg in a press release. "However, the board made it clear safety is the top priority and while [WMATA] has made strides in recent years, this issue demonstrates that more work must be done to ensure an organizational-wide safety culture."
Wiedefeld was set to retire June 30. Andy Off will serve as interim GM and CEO until Randy Clarke comes on board as the new GM and CEO this summer. Both Wiedefeld and Leader spent six years with WMATA.
The process to recertify 250 rail operators will take about two to three months, giving operators time to refresh on the rules of the job and reinforce their knowledge.
The recertification lapses follow a pattern of safety implications dating back at least seven years, reported The Washington Post.
An audit report from the safety commission said WMATA was cited as early as 2015 for not having a consistent recertification program. The Federal Transit Administration also identified problems including recertification not occurring as scheduled.
The transit agency issued waivers and extensions for recertification in 2020 due to the pandemic, but those issuances should have ended later that year, the newspaper reported, quoting WMATA spokeswoman Sherri Ly. Waivers were supposed to last only 30 days.