National Press Club

Metro GM Wiedefeld says system will emphasize 'getting trains running on time again'

November 30, 2016 | By Wesley G. Pippert | pippertw@missiouri.edu

Washington Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld told a Nov. 30 National Press Club luncheon audience that the system has upgraded safety and is now focusing on customer service.

Washington Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld told a Nov. 30 National Press Club luncheon audience that the system has upgraded safety and is now focusing on customer service.

Photo/Image: Marshall H. Cohen

On his first anniversary as general manager of Washington Metro, Paul Wiedefeld said the troubled system has moved from dealing with safety issues to a focus in the coming year "on getting the trains running on time again."

Wiedefeld was more upbeat in his talk at a National Press Club luncheon Wednesday than he was in a similar talk last March when he said he had found things "much worse than I expected."

"It's unbelievable," said Wiedefeld, previously manager of Baltimore's BWI airport, "what's been accomplished."

The year-long SafeTrack project, in which portions of various lines are shut down for days at a time for repairs, was started after Wiedefeld's decision -- his "toughest in 30 years but the easiest" -- to shut down the entire system for an entire day following a snow storm.

He said that before shutting down the system for a day he "took a break" and consulted his wife, who was with him at the head table Wednesday, and with close colleagues.

Now, looking ahead, Wiedefeld said his focus was on three things. First, he would continue the emphasis on safety.

The next priority would be a greater emphasis on customer service. This would include cutting delays caused by track problems by 50 percent and doubling the number of new 7,000-model cars.

Finally, he wants to establish "customer-driven metrics," allowing riders to calculate the "real time" to take a trip.

In response to Club President Thomas Burr's questions, Wiedefeld said:

--"You can't point to a particular manager" as accountable for the past conditions, but he acknowledged "we lost touch with our front-line employes."

-- Shuttting down more hours east of the Anacostia River than downtown was based on numbers of passengers, bus routes and stations.

-- Metro's fares and staff salaries are "generally in the ballpark" compared to New York and Los Angeles.

When Burr asked if the Silver Line might be shut down because of lack of revenue, Wiedefeld said the line was a regional issue and "a key to traffic congestion" in northern Virginia.

Burr also asked whether Metro was open to having art projects in its stations, as is done in Moscow subway systm. "We have iconic stations you can show anywhere in the world," Wiedefeld said, both dismissively and proudly.

The dessert featured cookies decorated with a popular map of Metro's routes and others with the Metro logo. The remaining ones were quickly snatched up by departing guests, with even Jack Evans, chair of the Metro board, scooping up a few.