Alumni Profile: Richard Sarles CE’67

Richard Sarles, a Cooper Union Civil Engineering graduate from the Class of 1967, has spent more than 40 years leading transportation agencies through changes that redefined travel in the United States.

Throughout his career in public service, Sarles transformed the Northeast Corridor into a fully electric passenger rail service; introduced Americas first high-speed train, Acela, which dramatically increased Amtrak’s share of the air/rail travel market from Boston to Washington, D.C.; brought popular multi-level rail cars and the first dual powered locomotives to NJ Transit; and began a transformation of the national capital area’s transit system following decades of infrastructure neglect.

As General Manager and Chief Executive Officer of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) from April 2010 through his retirement in January 2015, Sarles led WMATA to measurably improve safety performance by introducing the transit industry’s first fatigue prevention standards, created WMATA’s first system safety plan, addressed dozens of National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Transit Administration recommendations, and established a program to begin reconstruction of the system’s physical plant and equipment following years of deferred investment and maintenance. Under his leadership, new customer designed, state-of-the-art, rail cars were purchased to replace the oldest and least reliable portions of the fleet, many dating back to the opening of the system. He also opened an economically important new service into northern Virginia, the Silver Line.

During his years at the helm of NJ Transit, and prior to that its capital program, Sarles expanded two light rail systems in Hudson County and Newark; advanced the program to expand rail capacity between Newark and New York, including new tunnels under the Hudson River now known as “Gateway;” procured locomotives that permit operation of commuter trains from non-electrified New Jersey rail lines directly into Manhattan, which offers customers a one-seat ride.

From 1996 until 2002, Sarles was Vice President leading the Northeast Corridor’s High-Speed Rail program – bringing Acela service to Northeast Corridor business and leisure travelers, and electrifying the railroad for the first time in history between New Haven, CT, and Boston, MA.

Earlier in his career, Sarles served in construction, project management and project planning roles with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. These included a successful effort to overhaul and manufacture new PATH cars, and the modernization and reconstruction of major trans-Hudson facilities, encompassing vehicle tunnels, bridges and the PATH rapid transit system.  While on mobility assignment to the NJ Department of Transportation, he led a team that formulated the capital program which served as the basis for the reconstruction of the public transportation system upon the creation of NJ TRANSIT, to take over the failing, privately-operated transportation system.

Richard’s long career has been spent entirely in public service, inspired by both his life and educational experiences. Subsequent to his Civil Engineering degree at CU, he did graduate work in transportation engineering at Purdue University and earned a Masters of Business Administration degree from Rutgers University.


Richard Sarles received a Cooper Union Presidential Citation in 2011 and the CUAA Gano Dunn Award in 2018.  He was inducted into The Cooper Union Hall of Fame in 2011.

Learn More

Ex-director for NJ Transit is appointed to Washington, D.C. Metro job, NJ.Com. March 04, 2010.  Link

Former NJ Transit chief named D.C. Metro general manager, NJ.ComJanuary 21, 2011. Link

Rail Insider-How Does New Jersey Transit spell relief? A-R-C, as in as in the $7.5 billion Access to the Region’s Core project,  Progressive  March 2007  Link

Richard R. Sarles Named Executive Director of New Jersey – NJ April 2, 2007. Link

The New Face of Metro – NBC4 Washington, NBC4. Mar 2, 2010.  Link