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As D.C., Maryland, and Virginia prepare to take back safety oversight of Metro, regional leaders today released a “substantially complete” agreement to create a new commission that would be able to suspend rail service on any part of the system and launch inspections and investigations with wide-reaching access to tracks.
On Wednesday, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan rolled out a draft compact for a more robust “state safety oversight committee” to keep an eye on Metro. The Federal Transit Administration has said it only intends to oversee Metro safety on a temporary basis, and that the three jurisdictions must create their own new safety committee. In the past, the Tri-State Oversight Committee fulfilled the role but did so ineffectively.
Under the draft, the commission would in part “investigate hazards, incidents, and accidents” on Metro’s rail system, “review and approve corrective action plans,” and ensure the agency complies with the relevant federal and state law. The commission would have a six-member board—two people from each jurisdiction appointed by D.C.’s mayor and Maryland and Virginia’s governors—and would be financially independent from Metro.
The body would be able to subpoena, sue, and fine Metro for safety flaws as well as “direct [Metro] to prioritize spending on safety-critical items.” The commission would also have some power over Metro’s human resources, with the authority to direct it to “suspend or disqualify” individuals for certain “safety sensitives positions.”
The legislation was drafted with input from the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments and “independent legal advisors,” according to a joint release from the three executive offices. The D.C. Council is expected to take it up later this year, while the Maryland and Virginia state legislatures are expected to do so during their sessions next year.
In many ways, the draft compact represents a new opportunity for an external body to oversee Metro. According to the draft, the safety commission would determine its own staffing level “commensurate with the size and complexity of” the rail system, conduct training, and hire third-party contractors. The committee would also have to publish annual reports.
In a statement, Metro says it’s “encouraged by the advancement of the [commission] and support[s] of all the jurisdictions.”
FTA has not responded to a request for comment.
You can read the full draft compact here.
Update, 8:30 p.m.: FTA deferred comment to the U.S. Department of Transportation, which houses the administration. Namrata Kolachalam, a spokesperson for USDOT, said the following in a statement:
“It is encouraging to see Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia have finally taken a positive step toward fulfilling their legal responsibility to provide safety oversight of the Metrorail system. This is something the three jurisdictions have discussed since April 2010 and they must not let yet another legislative session come and go without creating their new Metrorail Safety Commission. We would be even more encouraged to see the D.C. Council pass this legislation while in session this summer so that the other two jurisdictions can follow suit quickly.”