US

Fate of crumbling DC subway rests with 'nuts-and-bolts guy'

  • In this photo taken July 25, 2016, Metro general manager Paul Wiedefeld inspects maintenance work being done in a tunnel on Metro's orange line in northern Virginia. Wiedefeld ordered a 9-month maintenance blitz that requires sections of track to be closed for weeks at a time. He said Metro can't catch up on critical maintenance by doing work only on nights and weekends. (AP Photo/Ben Nuckols)

    In this photo taken July 25, 2016, Metro general manager Paul Wiedefeld inspects maintenance work being done in a tunnel on Metro's orange line in northern Virginia. Wiedefeld ordered a 9-month maintenance blitz that requires sections of track to be closed for weeks at a time. He said Metro can't catch up on critical maintenance by doing work only on nights and weekends. (AP Photo/Ben Nuckols)  (The Associated Press)

  • In this photo taken July 25, 2016, Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld, right, chats with an employee during a tour of track work being done on Metro's orange line in northern Virginia. Wiedefeld ordered the track work, which requires trains in both directions to share a single line, as part of his effort to make the deteriorating system safer and more reliable. (AP Photo/Ben Nuckols)

    In this photo taken July 25, 2016, Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld, right, chats with an employee during a tour of track work being done on Metro's orange line in northern Virginia. Wiedefeld ordered the track work, which requires trains in both directions to share a single line, as part of his effort to make the deteriorating system safer and more reliable. (AP Photo/Ben Nuckols)  (The Associated Press)

  • Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld talks in his office in Washington, Thursday, July 7, 2016. Wiedefeld is determined to do what many observers say is impossible _ improve safety and reliability while reversing a slide in ridership, all without the added funding advocates say Metro needs to survive. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

    Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld talks in his office in Washington, Thursday, July 7, 2016. Wiedefeld is determined to do what many observers say is impossible _ improve safety and reliability while reversing a slide in ridership, all without the added funding advocates say Metro needs to survive. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)  (The Associated Press)

Paul Wiedefeld's job is simple, but some call it impossible.

The general manager of Washington's subway system has been tasked with making it safer and more reliable after years of deferred maintenance. He also needs to please commuters enough to reverse a slide in ridership. And he'll have to do it without the additional funding that advocates say Metro needs to survive.

The unassuming, longtime public servant says he's up to the challenge.

His moves so far have been bold, if not glamorous. This spring, he shut down the entire system for a day of emergency inspections and repairs. Then he launched a nine-month maintenance blitz that paralyzes stations for weeks at a time.

Wiedefeld says he wants to be as boring as possible. So far he's been anything but.