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.