Just one day after Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) announced that it was removing from service 72 rail operators due to a lapse in recertification, General Manager and CEO Paul Wiedefeld decided to step down—weeks ahead of his expected retirement date—and Chief Operating Officer Joe Leader resigned, the transit agency reported late May 16.
“The WMATA Board of Directors has accepted Paul Wiedefeld’s decision to make his retirement effective today [May 16],” WMATA Board Chair Paul C. Smedberg said. “In addition, Chief Operating Officer Joe Leader has resigned, effective immediately.
“The Board appreciates Paul’s and Joe’s commitment to WMATA over the last six years. We feel the timing is right for interim General Manager and CEO Andy Off to lead the organization through this critical transition period, with a continued emphasis on safety. Safety is and will continue to be our top priority. We will look to Andy’s leadership to ensure we continue on this path.”
Off, who served most recently as WMATA’s Executive Vice President, Capital Delivery, will hold the leadership position until Randy Clarke, current President and CEO of Capital Metro (CapMetro) in Austin, Tex., takes over in late summer. The WMATA Board announced his appointment on May 10.
On May 15, WMATA reported that nearly half of its 500 rail operators had lapsed recertification, prompting the removal from service 72, who became out of compliance more than a year ago.
The move to pull operators follows the release of a Washington Metrorail Safety Commission (WMSC) rail operations audit that found the transit agency “is not meeting its operational refresher training and recertification requirements.” That audit—conducted in 2021 and released April 12, 2022—drove WMATA Executive Vice President and Chief Safety Officer Theresa M. Impastato “to further investigate the issue,” WMATA said. The process to recertify more than 250 rail operators will take an estimated two to three months, according to the transit agency. (For more on the audit, read “WMATA Removes 72 Rail Operators.”)
Wiedefeld—who in January gave notice of his planned retirement, effective June 30—issued his own statement on May 16, shortly after Smedberg. He said: “I have decided to make my retirement effective today to provide a more timely transition to interim General Manager Andy Off.
“I have also accepted the resignation of Chief Operating Officer Joe Leader, effective immediately.
“I believe conveying all authority of the General Manager’s office to Mr. Off better positions him to address the challenges that came to light this week, while preparing for the transition to the next CEO.
“Stepping aside a few weeks ahead of schedule is in the best interest of the agency and its workforce, whom I have been deeply proud to lead over the last six years.
“I thank Joe Leader for his tireless work and dedication, and I wish the men and women who move this city continued success. I am also very grateful to Metro’s [WMATA’s] customers, stakeholders and Board for your support.”
In a statement released May 17, WMATA interim General Manager and CEO Off said: “I am honored to serve as interim General Manager and appreciate the trust the Board and Randy Clarke have placed in me. My mission during this transition is clear, and I am focused on our safety challenges, as well as restoring the 7000-series railcars for our customers and advancing Silver Line phase two.
“On my first day on the job, I met with the executive management team, the operations senior leadership team, and got briefed on the status of several key safety matters. As I told Chair Smedberg and Randy Clarke, the team here is united in our commitment to safety and getting riders back on Metro. We are determined not to miss a step, and everyone I have spoken to externally and internally today has offered their support and assistance.”
WMATA last year sidelined its 7000-series rapid transit cars—representing nearly 60% of its fleet—after an Oct. 12, 2021 Blue Line train derailment. The agency has been returning to service some of its 6000-series cars and is leaning on its older 2000- and 3000-series cars to keep the system moving.