New Internal Quality Assurance Initiative Helps WMATA Deliver Service Improvements

Dec. 12, 2017
The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority has made rigorous changes to ensure that the system operates safely, effectively and under a state of good repair.

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, better known as Metro, is demonstrating that internal quality programs independent of modal management helps drive improvements that benefits users and stakeholders.

Metro began serving the Washington, D.C. area in 1967 and opened the first segment of the Metrorail system in 1976. Today, Metrorail serves 91 stations and has 117 miles of track.

By 2015 the aging system and deferred maintenance challenged Metro’s ability to provide safe, reliable service. Under new leadership, the transit agency took aggressive action to return the system to a state of good repair, create new accountability measures and implement quality assurance programs. Progress during the past two years demonstrates that a legacy system can establish quality standards and improve compliance while achieving significant system improvements.

Keeping quality in the forefront 

Internal quality control is an integral part of the safety and accountability culture being fostered at Metro. Angel Peña, managing director, quality assurance, Internal Compliance and Oversight (QICO), leads the transit system’s quality assurance and oversight for operations, maintenance engineering, safety and security. Reporting to the General Manager, QICO delivers assessments to senior managers that report what the agency is doing well, opportunities for improvement, and recommendations for corrective actions. 

“We try to anticipate what needs to be done and how to address it based on system design, system age and supporting data,” Peña said. “We rely on experienced staff and consultants to help identify these needs and advance approaches to meet the need with specific plans and action schedules.”

Make it culture-driven

Transforming a legacy system through quality and accountability requires buy in from the top. Peña credits Metro General Manager and Chief Executive Officer, Paul J. Wiedefeld, with setting this tone.

Wiedefeld has focused on building long-term trust in this system by implementing three practices:

  • Prompt decisions
  • Transparency
  • Urgency 

Prompt Decisions

When faced with a backlog of maintenance needs, Metro leadership enacted a one-day system closure followed by SafeTrack, an aggressive one-year emergency maintenance and track work plan to address the system’s most critical needs.


Metro utilized press conferences and media briefings to communicate with the public. It also offered online tracking of quality reports and corrective action plans.


When faced with critical safety needs, immediate action is necessary.  This requires coordination and extensive public outreach to maintain public support and engage stakeholders.  For example, the agency determined it was necessary to permanently reduce service hours to allow enough time for preventive maintenance and ongoing repairs.

QICO’s creation and leadership role

These practices formed the foundation for the creation of QICO.  Metro consolidated internal compliance functions and began operating with a driving principle of doing the job right the first time with a focus on quality, not quantity.

“The status quo of operational and management practices can be a barrier to any change,” Peña said. “In addition, limited manpower and resources in the early stages of implementation meant we had to work hard and put in long hours when we began putting practices in place.”

QICO is charged with finding the most effective ways to get things done. This includes improving existing internal processes and improving daily work practices that, large or small, affect passenger experiences.  

“For example, we started tracking parts from purchase to installation, to future repairs,” Pena said. “This helps to identify potentially unreliable components and improve parts procurement in the future.” 

Wiedefeld approved the establishment of a system-wide Quality Management System Plan (QMSP) in August managed by QICO. This initiative goes beyond quality measures mandated for capital projects by the Federal Transit Administration. It incorporates components of the International Organization for Standardization 9000 to encompass all agency functions.

“This comprehensive approach to quality management helps ensure a strong foundation for future operations,” Peña said. “Our role with QICO is to establish a framework for policies and procedures that promote consistent and effective completion of work activities.” 

The results are significant. Clearly defined processes allow Metro to measure results based on requirements. When work is performed to a standard process, results are more reliable and with consistent performance of standard processes, additional areas for improvement can be identified to continue improving efficiency and passenger experiences.

Operations, stakeholders, public benefit

QICO assesses agency operations independent of the departments or work under review. The separation allows the team to provide an honest assessment and make findings and recommendations to improve the way Metro does business. It also sends a signal to the riding public, regulators and jurisdictional partners that Metro is taking a proactive approach to improve safety, reliability and finances.

These practices complement other agency initiatives to ensure that quality management aligns with Metro's top 3 priorities:

  • Safety first – Quality control measures assure that applicable safety requirements and procedures are followed, providing a safe work environment and service for riders.
  • Reliability – Creating a reliable system by establishing clearly defined processes that ensure service operations and maintenance activities are perform the same way each time.
  • Fiscal responsibility – Identifying ways to make the best use of existing resources to accomplish the most work and service with the resources available.

Tangible improvements

Throughout the 2017 review process, QICO identified issues of simple noncompliance as well as systemic process and material deficiencies. Three areas already under improvement include:

  • An effort for improved follow-up on structural deficiencies is helping engineering teams be more effective at capturing defect information and executing repairs.
  • New, standard requirements for Lock-Out-Tag-Out of non-roadway electrical equipment that improves worker safety when performing maintenance on secondary systems.
  • Clear understanding of expectations and enforcement of requirements now provide more consistent, reliable passenger service than existed prior to QICO.

“Our priority is to get the job done right the first time, and Metro is demonstrating that through strong, independent quality management,” Peña said. “Our leadership supports it, as do our jurisdictional partners, regulators and customers. We must deliver on the promise to get back to good. All of this relies on clearly defined processes that result in measurable outcomes. This is what Metro’s legacy will be built on.”

Rick Purnell is a freelance writer based in Palm Springs, California