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One day after a tunnel fire near the McPherson Square station gave Orange, Silver, and Blue line riders grief, the Federal Transit Administration on Tuesday announced a final rule to bolster rail safety oversight.
The rule, to be published in the Federal Register on Wednesday and take effect in 30 days, requires states to certify their “state safety oversight” (or SSO) programs with the FTA and ensure that the SSOs are financially and legally independent from the rail agencies they oversee. The rule also imposes more-stringent standards for jurisdictions in regards to incident investigations, fiscal and human resources, and training. The announcement comes as D.C., Maryland, and Virginia face mounting pressure from the FTA to create a strong SSO commission for Metro, after the current “Tri-State Oversight Commission” proved ineffective.
“With more rigorous and effective state safety oversight required by this final rule and federal law, transit systems across the nation will receive greater safety oversight with the aim of improving safety for passengers and transit system employees,” U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement. “Greater investigative and enforcement power combined with better training will give state safety oversight watchdogs sharper teeth to help rail transit agencies keep their systems safe.”
The 130-page rule cites the 2009 Red Line incident that killed nine and injured dozens of others as well as a 2010 incident that killed two rail workers as two of five incidents nationwide that “had probable causes that included inadequate safety oversight on the part of the [Regional Transportation Authority] or FTA.” It doesn’t mention the 90-plus corrective safety actions the FTA has mandated Metro to complete to get its operational house in order. (Metro is independently tracking its progress on these.)
D.C., Maryland, and Virginia officials have previously emphasized the difficulty of fixing Metro because of jurisdictional challenges, including the fact that state legislatures operate on different timelines. When the FTA threatened in February to withdraw federal funding from the three jurisdictions if they don’t establish a new SSO by next year, Maryland’s transportation secretary said in a statement obtained by the Post that there are “significant legal and statutory challenges associated with the formation of the” oversight agency.
Similarly, in a memorandum of understanding signed earlier this month by Mayor Muriel Bowser and the governors of Virginia and Maryland, the three leaders signaled their commitment to reforming Metro while also acknowledging obstacles. Metro “is the only public transit agency in the nation that is comprised of separate, co-equal jurisdictions,” they said. The memo commits D.C. and its peers to funding a new SSO commission.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery