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By Ella Mitchell, Staff Writer • April 22, 2024

WMATA CEO, general manager announces retirement from agency

Hatchet File Photo
Sounds of the blue line stations accompanied by photos of the metro stations

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority announced the retirement of its CEO and general manager Tuesday during a turbulent period for the agency with rail delays and thin ridership during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Paul Wiedefeld will retire in six months, stepping down from his role leading WMATA’s operations as the agency prepares a nationwide search for his replacement to resolve operational issues plaguing the transit system, according to a release from WMATA. The announcement caps off a six-year tenure that culminated with Metrorail delays that are currently set to last for at least six months since WMATA suspended more than half of its rail fleet in October because of wheel issues spotted after a Blue Line derailment.

Wiedefeld said the announcement of his retirement will provide time for Metro’s board of directors to find a leader who can set WMATA on a stable path forward.

“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 said in the release. “This gives the Board time to identify a successor and ensures an orderly management transition.”

Wiedefeld started his tenure as CEO and general manager in 2015 while the agency faced issues similar to today, including long delays and halted trains.

The release credits Wiedefeld with improving rail safety and reliability as well as guiding the agency through the pandemic when WMATA faced financial peril with potential budget cuts after ridership and revenue plummeted. The agency eventually averted the cuts with plans to maintain regular service after receiving federal stimulus funding in 2021.

Wiedefeld said he will continue working on current projects, like the Silver Line extension and relocation of Metro’s headquarters, until his retirement.

Metro has faced a plethora of challenges in recent months, including a Blue Line train derailment near Arlington National Cemetery in October that forced officials to sideline hundreds of 7000-series railcars, crippling the rail system. WMATA officials announced last week that the agency will postpone the return of the 7000-series railcars for at least three months until they determine the root cause of wheel issues that caused the Blue Line derailment.

Paul Smedberg, the chair of WMATA’s board of directors, thanked Wiedefeld in the release for his leadership in helping Metro survive the pandemic.

“There is no doubt that Paul Wiedefeld was the right man at the right time to guide Metro out of very dark days,” Smedberg said. “Paul is an extraordinary executive and the Board deeply appreciates his effective leadership and, most recently, his collaboration with us as we worked together to overcome an unprecedented set of challenges during the pandemic.”

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., thanked Wiedefeld for his service and called on WMATA’s directors to hire a CEO and general manager focused on transportation safety.

“As the WMATA Board of Directors searches for the next General Manager and CEO, it must focus on finding candidates who are equally committed to maintaining transparency, cooperating with state, local and federal partners, and most importantly, prioritizing safety,” he said in a release.

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About the Contributor
Zach Blackburn, Editor in Chief
Zach, a senior majoring in political communication, is the 2023-24 editor in chief of The Hatchet. He previously served as senior news editor and assistant news editor of the Metro beat. He hails from West Columbia, South Carolina.
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