WASHINGTON — He only began the job on July 25th, but in his second week on the job, the new general manager for Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) has already experienced the full D.C. metro chaos locals have come to expect.
Moving from Austin, Texas, where he was president and CEO of Capital Metro, Randy Clarke was not only taking on the normal headaches of a move, but Sunday night's Metro fire which shut down a section of the Red Line in Northwest Washington for nearly three days, and IT issues that caused delays on multiple lines, to the ongoing 7000-series train issues from last year's derailment.
"Obviously, a very kind of challenging first couple of weeks obviously personally moving to a new city getting accustomed to a new job," he told WUSA in an exclusive interview. "And then obviously we've had a couple of issues here at Metro over the last couple couple of days."
Issues he says that gave him a window into not just the problems, but the positive of the agency.
"In some ways, I kind of try to always be optimistic and look at the opportunity side for me somewhat new new set of eyes and the organization to really see where the really strengths in the organization are, but where maybe we have areas for improvement," he explained. "Sometimes when you have a crisis like that you can really quickly see those juxtapositions inside of an organization. So overall, it's been actually a way for me to start analyzing and working towards how we're going to take the organization to the next level."
After that Red Line electrical fire he went down into the tunnels, even tweeting photos of the work being done. Hoping to increase transparency within the agency plagued with problems.
On Thursday, the Washington Metrorail Safety Commission, an independent regulatory agency created by Congress to regulate the system safety, released a report outlining major safety issues within Metro control rooms, which include the equipment that keeps trains on schedule and prevents collisions.
According to the report, the control room inspected at Friendship heights had "water leaks, some of which were being caught by buckets place by Metrorail personnel..." located bear "vital automatic train controls (ATC) equipment."
They also found "a layer of dust and debris, which could interfere with the equipment's safe operation."
The regulatory agency had first flagged the issues back in March but found, although Metrorail had stated 'it would take action' as of a follow-up in July and August they had failed to make progress.
"We appreciate this report. There's things that the team is already has in motion, some contracts related to how we're going to do some like if you will structural repairs to some of these rooms that are really just old and dated," he said in reply to questions about the order. "And then there's a significant way we got to look at our overall maintenance performance standards and resource those standards. So we never, ever have a report that says this is dirty, that is wet, you name it, those types of things. So this is all about building the maturity curve of a maintenance program. So the heart of safety is maintenance."
"That's not going to change overnight, but that is what we are focused on," he added.
WMATA's board of directors announced that the organization was getting Clarke as the new general manager and CEO in early May. The search and selection of Clarke came after Paul Wiedefeld announced he was retiring from his position as general manager and CEO of WMATA in January.
Clarke also previously worked for Boston’s public transit agency, as well as a transit trade group in D.C.
Part of his charge, getting the 7,000-series trains back in service after the derailment that took them off line last year, and completing the Silver Line. All while continuing to tackle the safety issues that have compounded.
"We have underlying issues. There's no question about standing here publicly saying there's nothing to fix and I have the easiest job in the world. But we're going to be open and we're going to be transparent," he said. "So there's issues but that that report identified issues, we're gonna go and systematically attack those issues."
However, stressing the 'overall system is safe' and is one he continues to take multiple times a day. Even taking photos of elevator outages during his commutes and chatting up passengers. Working to rebuild the publics trust in a damaged system.
"I live and breathe transit and therefore therefore I live and breathe Metro. And I'm going to be focused, whether it's a customer or an employee, and other stakeholder you name it to hear their input and try to make the placements," he said.