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Metro's resigning manager inherited funding and board problems

As is less known but more important, Catoe wasn't sufficiently aggressive in unraveling Metro's bureaucracy and cleaning house to correct safety lapses. There wasn't enough focus on operations and accountability.

"He didn't deliver on the promise that he made when he came on board, which is that he was going to be an operations guy," said a local transportation source close to Metro who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid disrupting professional relationships. "I would have expected Catoe to do a lot more to reorient the entire staff to a no-holds-barred orientation on safety and rehabilitation. He's had enough time to do that, and he hasn't done it."

However, this source and others warned that replacing the general manager, by itself, won't be enough to revive Metro.

"Does his leaving create a pathway to improvement? I don't think it does, unless there are a lot of other changes," the source said.

One pressing need is to invest billions of dollars in the coming decade to maintain and modernize the 33-year-old system. It took the Red Line crash to embarrass the region and Congress sufficiently to finally approve a steady stream of money -- $300 million a year, assuming nobody backs out -- for Metro. The Metro Matters program, another key source of funds, is set to expire at the end of this year, and there's no firm decision yet to extend it.

"The system is chronically underfunded. That gives us a lot of these safety problems that we've experienced," said Cheryl Cort, policy director for the Coalition for Smarter Growth, a nonprofit group that promotes mass transit and transit-oriented development.

The other major problem is the board itself, where progress is repeatedly stymied by disagreements between suburban jurisdictions and the District and by the unavoidable desire of the politicians who sit on the board to cater to their individual constituencies rather than the needs of the region.

The Washington region can be happy that it has the opportunity to find a new Metro general manager to go further than Catoe in making tough personnel and management decisions. But we should recognize that there isn't a superman or superwoman out there who can deliver the safe, efficient transit system we want without enough money and a reasonable board for which to work.

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