WMATA CEO: Employees want a high-functioning organization

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WASHINGTON — After two-and-a-half hours of grilling top management on Thursday about a range of problems, most members of Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority's board of directors expressed some confidence that the beleaguered agency is beginning to head in the right direction.

On one hand, the agency is committed to meeting safety issues head-on, not cover them up as has been done in the past. On the other, top management is determined to build a safety culture as the core of the organization.

Metro Chairman Jack Evans called the meeting — the board usually does not meet in August — to give members a chance to put detailed questions to WMATA CEO Paul Wiedefeld and his senior staff on a wide range of issues. Many came from some of Metro's most recent mishaps, including a July 29 derailment, several incidents where train operators ran past stop signals, and the arrest of a Metro Transit Police officer for allegedly aiding the Islamic State terrorist network.

“This has to stop,” Evans said. “Everyone needs to know that we are committed to fixing the system.”

Board member David L. Strickland, former head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said that his agency encouraged people to use public transportation as a way of reducing highway fatalities. Now Metro is undermining those efforts.

“We're fighting a lack of faith in the system,” Strickland said. “What is the long range plan to change the culture?”

“We reinforce the idea that we are all in this together,” Wiedefeld said in response. “Every one of us has to understand that we are all part of the solution. It is an agency-wide issue.”

Wiedefeld said that at a recent meeting, employees complained that nobody listens to them, and don't appreciate what they do.

“I said, take pride in your job, and make sure everyone understands why we're here,” he said. “People are listening and reacting.”

At a press gathering following the meeting, Wiedefeld was asked if he was getting internal resistance to the idea of culture change.

“I think it's just the opposite. What I have found is that [employees] look backward to the days when they thought this was a high-functioning organization, the most fantastic system in the country, if not the globe. They want that back as well. I think there's a lot of desire to do that.”

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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