D.C. Metro general manager replaces top deputy, safety officer

By Lena H. Sun
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 12, 2009

Metro General Manager John B. Catoe Jr. is replacing his top deputy who runs the day-to-day operations of the transit agency and the chief safety officer in a major shake-up a day after Metro executives were harshly criticized on Capitol Hill for lapses in safety oversight and management accountability.

Both Deputy General Manager Gerald Francis and Chief Safety Officer Alexa Dupigny-Samuels will step down from their jobs, according to a memo sent late Friday by Catoe to Metro's board of directors. Metro sources said Francis will leave for a job in the private sector, while Dupigny-Samuels will remain at the agency. The sources asked not to be identified because they are not authorized to speak publicly.

The moves come after Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) delivered the most forceful criticism of Metro since the June 22 crash in Northeast Washington that killed nine people. In testimony before a Senate transportation subcommittee Thursday, the senator accused Metro managers of paying "lip service" to lapses in safety oversight and accountability, said she no longer had confidence in the agency and called on the Metro board to take "appropriate and immediate" action.

As the No. 2 person at Metro, Francis has been responsible for safety and reliability at the nation's second-busiest subway system -- one that has suffered an unprecedented 11 passenger and employee deaths in the past six months. In the memo, Catoe said Metro continues to have incidents that have focused attention on the lack of proper accountability, according to the sources, who are familiar with the document.

Catoe told the board that Metro's focus on safety needed to be more visible to improve public perception and confidence.

Jim Graham, the Metro board's chairman, said the changes have been in the works for several weeks. "I think these are solid steps by the general manager to improve the effectiveness of his key staff," he said. "I support these changes."

Under the new structure, Catoe will handle more of the operations and delegate administrative duties. Francis is a trusted confidante of Catoe's who worked closely with him when the two were at the Los Angeles transit agency. He will be leaving in March; Metro is conducting a national search to fill the position. Rail chief Dave Kubicek will take over his job in the interim.

In addition, Metrobus chief Milo Victoria and Assistant General Manager Sara Wilson, who oversees communications and corporate strategy, will also step down from their jobs, according to the memo and Metro sources. Victoria is leaving to accept a job elsewhere. Two high-profile Metrobus accidents and other incidents involving bus operators took place on his watch. Wilson will stay at Metro but work on special projects.

The news means that within the past week, Metro has announced the removal, reassignment or departure of five top executives, one-third of Catoe's leadership team.

After this summer's deadly Red Line crash, two workers were fatally injured in separate incidents on the tracks. Late last month, one Metro train smashed into a parked train at the West Falls Church rail yard in Northern Virginia, injuring three workers and causing at least $9 million in damage.

Last month, The Washington Post reported that Metro officials, including Dupigny-Samuels, had barred independent safety monitors from walking live tracks since spring. Catoe said he did not learn of the ban until six months after it was imposed and after reporters contacted Metro seeking comment.

Articles in The Washington Post over the past six months have documented safety lapses and oversight failures that preceded those incidents.

Last month, Metro officials directed Dupigny-Samuels to be supervised by Transit Police Chief Michael Taborn but allowed her to remain as chief safety officer. In the memo Friday, Catoe said Taborn will continue to oversee the safety department while the agency recruits a new chief safety officer. More changes to the safety organization could follow after an audit next week by the Federal Transit Administration, the memo said.

In an earlier management change that he said was because of a budget shortfall, Catoe also eliminated the third-highest job at the agency, held by Emeka Moneme, who was Dupigny-Samuels's boss and oversaw safety, information technology and human resources.

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