"It didn't take long to see that this 3,300-employee transit agency -- the nation's 12th largest -- was in serious need of an overhaul."
The Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) is a division of the Maryland Department of Transportation, and one of the largest multi-modal transit systems in the US. Not only does it manage rail services, but it also runs local bus services. The rail systems are the second most used modes of transport in the region averaging at 2 million rides per yearly quarter. It may surprise you that nearly half of Baltimore's residents lack access to a car, which makes MTA's services an important part of many people's lives. This week Emily O'Dowd spoke to the organisation's CEO, Paul Comfort who has over 20 years of experience in the transportation industry. We learn more about his personal journey, the challenges he's faced along the way and what improvements MTA users will see on their service over the next few years.
Emiy O'Dowd (EOD): What first led you to your rail industry?
Paul Comfort (PC): ( @comfortpaul ) I have spent most of my life working in the transit industry. During my career, I have always been fascinated by the ability of rail and transit, in general, to connect people with life’s opportunities such as employment and educational enrichment. Transit is a vital service. That is why, I enjoy getting-up every day and going to work to make Maryland transit more safe, efficient, and reliable, while providing world-class customer service.
EOD: What do you enjoy most about your job?
PC: Transforming a transit agency requires building a team of superstars, establishing a set of common goals, communicating those goals to your team, and shepherding major projects to a successful completion. I enjoy the challenge of acting as a talent scout, visionary, and quarterback – at the same time. The satisfaction I receive from recruiting a star team member or completing the next major project motivates me and my team to reach for even greater victories as we manage the day-to-day operations of the Maryland Transit Administration.
EOD: What are the latest projects that Maryland Transit have been working on?
PC: The Maryland Transit Administration is undertaking several major projects at the moment.
BaltimoreLink is the complete overhaul and rebranding of the core transit system operating within the city and throughout the greater Baltimore region. The plan includes updated routes that better reflect the cities’ modern economy, a new high-frequency color-coded bus service, and infrastructure improvement such as transit signal Priority and dedicated bus lanes.
In the DC region, the Maryland Transit Administration is constructing the Purple Line, a new 16-mile light rail line that will extend from Bethesda in Montgomery County to New Carrollton in Prince George's County. It will provide a direct connection to the Washington Metrorail, MARC Train, Amtrak, and local bus services. In planning the Purple Line, we pursued an innovative solicitation approach. The State solicited a single private partner (concessionaire) who will be responsible for designing, constructing, operating, and maintaining the project, and this private partner will also help finance a portion of construction. The Purple Line P3 project is the largest contract awarded in state history. Ground is expected to be broken on the line this spring.
In addition to these two major advancements, the MTA is making significant capital improvements to our core rail system by replacing all the cars on our metro system and completing a mid-life overhaul of our light rail vehicles. It is an exciting time at the MTA. We are bringing our State’s transit system into the 21st century.
Paul Comfort will be a guest speaker at our next SafeRail Congress in Washington DC from the 11-12th April! Book your pass now - free for all railroad, transit agencies and metro and government agency employees.
EOD: What is the biggest challenge in your role?
PC: If you ever held a leadership role in a large organization, you may have encountered the same thing I did when I arrived as administrator and CEO of the Maryland Department of Transportation's Maryland Transit Administration (MTA): overlapping layers of bureaucracy choking line managers' ability to implement changes and improvements. It didn't take long to see that this 3,300-employee transit agency -- the nation's 12th largest -- was in serious need of an overhaul. It was listless, with no real direction. Its systems were in disarray and stuck in the last century.
I believe that to achieve significant progress in any organization, you have to break up the power of the "back office." In large agencies, administrative support functions such as human resources, finance, information technology, procurement, legal and communications too often accrue unjustified power that dictates decisions to line management through overwrought risk management and hardened policies and procedures.
The power of these “back office” functions should be minimized and redirected toward helping line management achieve operational objectives. This can be accomplished by breaking up large administrative-support departments and splitting them throughout the agency. This effort has already begun to bear fruit, but there is still work to be done in bending the bureaucracy.
EOD: How do you predict Rail will change in the next five years?
PC: In the coming years, Maglev will make its debut in the United States. The Maryland Transit Administration is currently conducting the environmental impact statement for a project that will connect Baltimore & Washington, D.C. utilizing Maglev technology. This would cut the trip to a mere 15 minutes. This is exciting news for an area as congested as the Baltimore Washington Metropolitan Area. The Northeast Maglev line is being advanced by a group of global partners both public & private.
This is an exciting advancement for American transit. I look forward to seeing what else the future holds for our industry.
EOD: What is your favorite rail journey?
PC: I never tire of the trip from Union Station in Washington D.C. to Brunswick, MD on MTA's MARC commuter train service. This 90-minute journey travels from a densely-populated metropolis to the quaint small town of Brunswick. This relatively short journey seemingly transports you through time as you leave our Nation’s bustling Capitol, travel through the busy DC Suburbs, until you are eventually surrounded by quiet dairy farms and historic small towns. This journey is enjoyed daily by commuters, tourists, and rail enthusiasts, alike.
EOD: It's been great to get a real insight into Maryland Transit! We look forward to hearing more from you at the sixth annual SafeRail Congress!
5 minutes with… You? Each Friday the team here at SmartRail World brings you a 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: firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more.
The last 5 minutes with... 5 Minutes With... Dr. Edwin Lohmann, Director, Business Unit Workforce North America, Quintiq.
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