The Washington Metropolitan Transportation Authority, burdened with budget problems and dealing with serious safety issues on its Metrorail system, is drawing upon the talents of three transit veterans in an effort to get the troubled agency back on more-secure footing.
Former New Jersey Transit Executive Director Richard Sarles, who departed NJT last month, has been identified by WMATA as a candidate for Metro’s interim general manager for at least six months, and possibly for a year.
Metro’s Board of Directors, scheduled to make a decision Wednesday, seeks Sarles’ experience as it tries to address safety and fiscal concerns plaguing the sytem. Any interim general manager would have to address funding issues, including adequate funds for capital needs and to fill an estimated $190 million budget gap for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
Metro Chairman Peter Benjamin identified Sarles as “somebody who knows transit well and can step right in and do the job, and somebody who will not be a caretaker, who will be an assertive and aggressive leader of the organization because we have a lot of issues we have to tackle, starting with safety."
Sarles (top), if chosen, would succeed General Manager John B. Catoe, Jr., whose resignation takes effect April 2. Sarles also worked in executive positions at Amtrak and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
Benjamin said a search for a permanent general manager will take place during the remainder of the year.
In a related development, former WMATA General Manager David Gunn (second from top)—well known and highly respected in the rail industry for his ability to turn troubled transit systems around—has been hired as a consultant to make recommendations on safety and operational issues. A straight shooter who has never been one to tolerate political shenanigans, Gunn served as WMATA GM from 1991 to 1994.
Gunn was asked to consult by yet another rail industry icon: new WMATA board member Mortimer L. Downey (bottom), the former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Transportation from 1993 to 2001 and former Executive Director and Chief Financial Officer of the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Downey is now a senior executive at Parsons Brinckerhoff.
Both Gunn and Downey are recipients of Railway Age’s W. Graham Claytor Jr. Award for Distinguished Service to Passenger Transportation.