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WMATA names Downey chairman; union calls on agency to improve safety culture


Mortimer Downey III has been elected chairman of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) to succeed Tom Downs, whose two-year term as chair expired Jan. 22.

Downey, who was deputy secretary of transportation in President Bill Clinton's administration, joined WMATA's board in 2010. He served on the Transportation Policy Committee for Barack Obama's presidential campaign and during the 2008-09 presidential transition. He was appointed leader of the Department of Transportation Agency Review team. Additionally, he is vice chairman of the U.S. Department of Transportation's National Freight Transportation Advisory Committee.

Downey was executive director and chief financial officer of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in New York City for 12 years. He also previously served the U.S. House Committee on the Budget, and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

"This new board leadership will remain focused on maintaining a spirit of governance that is both cooperative and collaborative, as we seek to select a new general manager/chief executive officer and secure adequate funding for [WMATA's] future," Downey said in a press release.

Going forward, the board's governance should provide for public accountability and build confidence and trust in the WMATA system, he added.

Downey's appointment comes as the agency and the National Transportation Safety Board investigate a deadly incident on the WMATA system near L'Enfant Plaza earlier this month. One person died and 80 others were injured in the incident, which investigators believe was caused by an electrical event involving cables that power the train's third rail.

Meanwhile, the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 yesterday called on WMATA to "commit itself to a safety culture now." The union represents WMATA's operators, maintenance and clerical employees.

In a website post, union officials said that WMATA "has failed to invest in the emergency training that all employees need on a consistent basis" since the 2009 Red Line accident that resulted in nine fatalities.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

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