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DC Metro Chief Safety Officer Patrick Lavin Resigns

BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

Helen Lyons Contributor

WASHINGTON — Chief safety officer of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s (WMATA) Patrick Lavin submitted his resignation to the agency Monday, citing his intent to move to the private sector and return to his family in New York City.

The announcement comes just as WMATA begins testing automatic train doors as a step toward fully automating the trains again, a practice that stopped after a collision in 2009 killed nine people and injured 80. Automation was removed due to subsequent “overriding safety priorities,” but the switch made room for human error.

“While rare, there have been instances where operators have temporarily lost awareness and accidentally opened doors on the wrong side of the train,” WMATA says, adding that this is something that the automatic system will prevent.

Operators were trained to pause for several seconds after arriving at a station after a series of wrong-side door incidents, but this added to commute time for riders. WMATA expects to move to system-wide use of automated doors later in the year. Lavin’s resignation is effective May 3. (RELATED: D.C. City Council Overrides Mayor’s Veto To Decriminalize Fare Evasion)

Commuters get off a Metro train as others wait to go aboard at the L’Enfant Plaza station in Washington, DC, on May 24, 2016. (Photo: NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

As second-in-command of the New York transit system’s Office of System Safety, Lavin was a high-profile hire for WMATA back in 2016, meant to assuage the safety concerns plaguing the D.C. system. A train derailed that summer, and the year prior, one person died and dozens were hurt when a metro car filled with smoke as a result of what the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) described as “an electrical arcing event.”

In the letter addressed to WMATA’s General Manager and CEO Paul J. Wiedefeld, Lavin wrote, “Three years ago … you and I attended a[n] NTSB hearing together where we learned more about the depth of the metro’s safety challenges. I had just left my supportive wife and family in New York to join your team, with a shared and profound commitment to improving WMATA’s safety culture.”

Lavin said that while it was “one of the highlights” of his career to work with WMATA, he was honoring a commitment to his wife to return to New York after three years.

Lavin outlines his accomplishments in the letter, which include reducing fires, derailment, collisions and red signal overruns. He mentions improving personal protective equipment by upgrading safety helmets impact-resistant work gloves, along with introducing third rail insulating mats to protect workers from electrical shock. (RELATED: Fare Evading Flasher Arrested On DC Metro)

“Over these three years, we have made steady progress towards institutionalizing safety changes that protect employees and customers alike,” Lavin wrote. “Most importantly, a strong professional team is now in place to provide continuity and in-house safety expertise for the [a]uthority — a team which personifies your ‘safety trumps service’ message every day.”

Wiedefeld is “profoundly grateful for Pat’s expertise, professionalism and service to Metro,” according to a statement from a WMATA spokesperson. 

The position was considered “critical” when Lavin filled the vacancy in 2016. WMATA says that a national search for a successor will begin immediately.