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The Feds are stepping in.
In a directive today to the Tri-State Oversight Committee—Metro’s current bosses—the Federal Transit Administration said it “will retain lead responsibility for ensuring” Metro’s completion of 78 corrective actions made public this June. Under the directive, the FTA will conduct inspections, investigations, and other audits of Metro’s equipment, facilities, and operations, with the ability to “withhold or direct” federal funds to ensure compliance—a type of accountability the heavily criticized TOC cannot match.
Though the FTA may occasionally order the TOC to monitor Metro’s corrective-action performance, the long-term goal of the directive is for D.C., Maryland, and Virginia to set up a new and competent State Safety Oversight Agency. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, Metro received roughly $440 million in federal financial assistance for fiscal year 2015. A new director from the FTA will take the lead on oversight.
“This is the strictest level of federal safety oversight ever placed on a rail transit agency,” said FTA Acting Administrator Therese McMillan in a statement.
USDOT indicates that the TOC has issued about 225 findings and recommendations for Metrorail safety that must be completed. The directive comes as the troubled transit agency continues to search for a full-time general manager who can improve its overall culture and performance. In a statement, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said Metro’s board “must immediately hire a capable General Manager who is able to correct the agency’s course.” It’s currently under Jack Requa.
In a letter to Requa and Metro board Chairman Mortimer Downey included as part of the directive’s roll-out, McMillan writes that more rail inspections will be conducted “on a proactive and at times unannounced basis.” She adds that the TOC will no longer regularly report before the board of directors, “an arrangement [that is] unique among all the rail transit industry.” FTA will be the conduit for all communications between Metro and the TOC. “It is essential that you understand from the present circumstances and our plan for enhanced Federal safety oversight of Metrorail, it is no longer business as usual,” McMillian wrote.
For riders, business as usual has involved almost daily delays as well as meltdowns in reliability. Last month, a fire at a substation that feeds the Stadium-Armory station along the Blue, Orange, and Silver lines caused most trains to skip that stop during rush hour. While Metro announced last week that repairs to the substation will be done in about three months, the bypassing remains in effect, as do peak fares.
Sean Thompson will serve as the FTA director for Metro safety oversight.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery