WASHINGTON — Metro General Manager and Chief Executive Officer Paul J. Wiedefeld will be stepping down from the transit agency after more than six years at the helm. Wiedefeld, 66, will depart in six months, right after Metro's fiscal year concludes.
“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 via press release. “This gives the Board time to identify a successor and ensures an orderly management transition."
Metro's Board of Directors Chair Paul Smedberg said the agency will begin a search for Wiedefeld's replacement, and publicly discuss plans at the Board’s meeting on Feb.10.
Wiedefeld will continue to oversee the expansion of the Silver Line, the ongoing safety investigation in Metro's 7000-series trains and the headquarters move.
The 7000-series trains have been out of service since a Blue Line derailment on Oct. 12, which the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said could have been "catastrophic." The derailment forced 200 people to be evacuated from a Blue Line train, and WMATA subsequently pulled nearly 60% of its rail fleet from service.
While investigating the derailment, NTSB found that an axle of the railcar that derailed was "out of compliance with the 7000 Series specifications for the wheel and axle assembly," according to an order issued by the WMSC.
The last status update from Metro said the fleet wouldn't be able to return until at least April, nearly six months after the derailment.
Metro said that they’re continuing to operate currently scheduled rail service and that customer wait times should average less than 10 minutes on all lines.
Following the announcement on Tuesday, a number of leaders reacted to Wiedefeld's term and the change in leadership later this year.
Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA), who organized a hearing for February that will include questioning WMATA officials about the 7000 Series investigation, lauded Wiedefeld for his time as head of the agency.
"I think Paul Wiedefeld will be remembered as a manager who was willing to make tough decisions," Connolly said.
Wiedefeld's time as head of WMATA came months after a woman died and dozens of others became sick after smoke filled L'Enfant Plaza station. Ridership also remained at low levels at the time.
However, he helped oversee a recovery that led to greater reliability and ridership growth up until the beginning of the pandemic.
Since then, Wiedefeld has had to navigate through the 7000 Series investigation and a reduction of bus service as a result of WMATA crews being sickened by the omicron variant.
Moving forward, Connolly told WUSA on Tuesday that restoring service and ridership numbers will be key over the next year.
"How do we get ridership up to pre-pandemic levels? Reliability, confidence, and customer service," the representative said. "I think he recognizes the next phase of this management challenge has to be somebody whose got a long term time horizon.”
Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) also highlighted Wiedefeld's achievements, including "his willingness to make hard decisions in the best interest of safety," in a statement released after the announcement.
Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) echoed the support for Wiedefeld and said he was the "right person for the job at the right time."