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WASHINGTON (AP) — Metro’s chief executive says he will step down from the transit agency next year.

In a note to employees Wednesday, Richard Sarles says he has decided to leave because he is turning 70 next year and wants to spend more time with his family. He plans to retire in mid-January 2015.

The announcement comes as a surprise because Metro’s board has extended Sarles’ contract as general manager through January 2016. His annual salary was raised from $350,000 to $366,000.

Sarles recently announced some red line trains will soon return to automatic train operation for the first time since a fatal 2009 train crash. The crash was caused when the automated system failed. Investigators cited a lax safety culture. Sarles said improvements in the system represent Metro’s recovery since 2009.

(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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