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5 minutes with… Shyam Kannan, Managing Director of Planning at WMATA.

Posted by Luke Upton on May 27, 2016

Shyam_Kannan_Managing_Director_of_Planning_WMATA.jpg"I have been given the freedom and latitude to conceptualize improvements and push them to implementation..."

Today’s edition comes to you from the US capital area, to learn more about life at the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), commonly referred to as Metro. The second-busiest rapid transit system in the US, after New York, its Metrorail and Metrobus networks serve a population of approximately 4 million across a 1,500-square mile jurisdiction. The area it covers is varied, from the heart of the government in the Capitol to suburban districts and cities in Virginia. Population growth in the region has also revived efforts to extend and improve service, build new stations, and construct additional lines. To let us know more about the network and his own work within it, our Editor Luke Upton spent some time with WMATA’s Managing Director of Planning, Shyam Kannan, so over to him….

Luke Upton (LU): Thanks for the time today, how did you get into the rail industry?

Shyam Kannan (SK): My career began as a real estate economist, working for private sector developers that wanted to underwrite large projects in unusual circumstances. Over time, my work involved more and more transit-oriented development projects, and in due course I found myself working for public-sector entities seeking to monetize the value of large rail infrastructure projects through real estate improvements.  That work led me to WMATA, an agency that has created tremendous value in the Washington, D.C. region and needed strategic guidance for how to restore and preserve that investment through an honest and transparent dialogue with the regional business community about the value of the transit system vis-à-vis their investments in land use.  This also included the creation of a strategic plan for the Authority as well as guidance for how the Authority can better plan for capital reinvestment.

LU: What do like most about your job?

SK: I have an enormously talented team and work with dedicated professionals who are passionate about WMATA!  Each day I have an opportunity to make this transit system better, and I have been given the freedom and latitude to conceptualize improvements and push them to implementation.

LU: What’s the biggest challenge in your role?L'Enfant Plaza, Washington DC (Credit; Larry Levine, WMATA)

SK: WMATA is a regional entity with many competing interests, all wired into its funding and governing structure.  We work in three states (counting the District) and interface directly with the Federal Government.  That means that decision-making is never a linear process, and requires significant amounts of political savvy and heavy lifting in order to transform ideas into reality.

LU: What will be some of the biggest differences between rail now and in 10 years’ time?

SK: Safety.  Ten years from now this Authority and the region will have in its rear-view mirror the safety and reliability challenges that are front and centre in the news each day.  We will be moving forward aggressively on capacity improvements and planning services that better improve our regional connectivity.

LU: What’s your favourite rail journey?

SK: My daily commute! I board in Maryland and get all the way into DC in under 30 minutes, and I get to see different parts of the city and the region, and also see so much diversity in our riding customers.  Every country, language, colour, creed, belief, biology – it’s all here on Metro, every ride, every day.  And I love it all!

LU: Great, thanks for the time today Shyam, best of luck on the future projects! 


Shyam Kannan, is one of the many expert speakers already confirmed for SmartTransit which takes place in New York in October 2016. Find out more about the show here. 


5 minutes with… You? Each Friday the team here at SmartRail World will bring you a great new 5 minutes with... interview. This fun, fast-paced feature will help you get to know more about personalities across the industry, their ideas and experiences and of course their own favourite rail journey! Want to take part? Email: sarah.wright@globaltransportforum.com to find out more. 

Next week's 5 minutes with... Will Phillipson, Co-Founder & President of SilverRail Technologies.

Last week's 5 minutes with... Bill Hopkins, Operations Director at Trainline.

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Luke Upton

Written by Luke Upton

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