WASHINGTON - It has been one year since Paul Wiedefeld took over as Metro’s general manager. At the National Press Club, Wiedefeld gave a progress report on the past year and his goals for 2017.
Wiedefeld said a lot of work has taken place since he arrived. He said maintenance and safety issues were being ignored for too long and that is no longer taking place.
Since taking over the job, Wiedefeld said one of the hardest decisions he made was shutting down the entire Metro system for a full day. He knew it impacted everyone, but said safety was more important than the inconvenience.
Also, new railcars are in service. Currently, 20 new railcars are being introduced into service each month.
“It is amazing to me to see the transformation that is occurring out there on the system,” Wiedefeld said. “I know that you don’t see it or feel it as much, but the reality is the amount of work that we have done, it’s just unbelievable.”
Getting the budget under control has also been important. Wiedefeld said cuts, especially laying off hundreds of employees, has been difficult, but needed.
Looking forward, Metro has introduced a new initiative called Back2Good as we head into 2017. Wiedefeld said track work is still a priority and when SafeTrack is done, the system should be in much better shape, but not perfect. He hopes to have a 50 percent cut in unscheduled track delays.
“The biggest thing that I have seen is our employees are bringing up the issues, which is exactly what you want in a safety culture,” he said. “Some of the speed restrictions you have seen, they are not coming from management. They are coming from the line people out on the system and that is exactly where they should be coming.”
He also spoke about efforts to put cell phone service into tunnels to provide a better customer experience.
Metro Board chairman Jack Evans applauded Wiedefeld and his new management team saying the entire Metro system was in a terrible situation a year ago.
“We have grounded a system that was in chaos – so we have grounded it,” Evans said. “But we still have an enormous amount of work to do on the operations side in fixing tracks, trains, making it reliable.”
But as Wiedefeld announces his plans for the upcoming year, he could face political kickback. On Thursday, he is expected to ask for additional hours to keep the rail system closed for maintenance, but some local leaders are opposing him on cutting late-night service, including D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser.