Gray taps former Amtrak president Tom Downs to serve on Metro board

January 4, 2011 - 03:35 PM
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Tom Downs, Amtrak chairman, left, shakes hands with Jedd Dodd as then-Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater, center, looks on in 1997, at the Transportation Department in Washington. (Photo: Associated Press)

D.C. Mayor Vince Gray will select former Amtrak president Tom Downs to be one of the District’s four representatives on the board that governs Metro, according to sources in the Gray administration.

Though he’s held numerous posts in his 40-year career, Downs may be best known for his tenure at Amtrak, where he was president from 1993 to 1998. He also served in the Marion Barry administration in the 1980s, first as transportation chief and later as city administrator. Downs has experience in the private sector, serving as head of Paris-based Veolia Transportation’s North American Board of Business Advisors, and also in the nonprofit world, including a stint as head of the National Center for Smart Growth Education and Research at the University of Maryland.

Late last year, Gray (D) chose Downs to co-chair his infrastructure and transportation transition committee.

Metro board chairman Peter Benjamin says Downs will be an excellent addition to the 14-member panel, which is going through an extensive shakeup, prompted in large measure by the fatal 2009 crash on the Red Line and a subsequent report that found fault with the safety culture and management structure at the agency.

“He has an enormous amount of knowledge. I’ve know him many, many, years," Benjamin says of Downs. "He’s a good guy. Very knowledgeable. Very intelligent.”

Downs will take Fenty aide Neil Albert’s place on the Metro board. He joins another newcomer, Councilman Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), who was just chosen by new council chairman Kwame Brown.

When Downs became a Gray adviser last fall, the blog Greater Greater Washington asked readers:

“Which would you rather have running Mayor-elect Vincent Gray's transportation transition team? A former City Administrator under Marion Barry, who was running the city during the famous episode where Barry flippantly dismissed snow plowing failures while he was at the Super Bowl? Or a former CEO of Amtrak, head of U-Md.'s smart growth center, and occasional blogger who wrote excitedly about the return of streetcars, the value of high-speed rail, and the need for a federal transportation reauthorization? (It turns out) they're the same guy.”

While says Downs is “known for his infectious sense of humor, his irreverence, his mastery of history and his insights,” he is not one to mince words, having once told critics of Amtrak to “Get out of my face.”

Downs is a Fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration.

No word on when Gray will make Downs’ selection official.

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