US Secretary of Transportation transfers Metro safety oversight to FTA

10 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

FTA to Take Over Direct Safety Oversight of Metrorail.

U.S. Metro will become the first U.S. subway system placed under direct federal supervision for safety lapses under a plan announced late Friday by Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

Federal regulators are taking control of safety oversight for Washington, D.C.’s troubled Metrorail system, a sharp indictment of problems the agency hasn’t been able to get a handle on for years.The Department of Transportation is rejecting an “urgent” recommendation from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to classify the Washington, D.C.“We will continue to work closely with FTA to improve safety of the WMATA system and are fully engaged in implementing corrective actions recently approved by the agency,” said Metro interim general manager and CEO Jack Requa. “We appreciate Secretary Foxx’s continued support and his leadership on safety oversight.” “Faced with serial accidents, it should relieve every Metro rider that the Federal Transit Administration will take direct oversight of Metrorail for now,” said Del.

Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx announced a plan that would allow FTA officials to intervene when safety concerns arise on the Metrorail system. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.). “DOT has jurisdiction as well over the Federal Railroad Administration, which is most familiar with safety oversight of railroads, including the PATH (New Jersey to New York), which is similar to Metrorail. FTA’s powers will include the ability to conduct unannounced inspections, and to order the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority to spend federal money to correct problems. The enhanced federal oversight will continue until D.C., Maryland and Virginia establish an “compliant and capable” agency to oversee safety, which is now handled by a body called the Tri-State Oversight Committee. But Foxx said the change, which would have required congressional action, would only create “confusion and a greater risk of slowing down improvements.” “We believe this approach accomplishes the same goals as the NTSB’s urgent recommendations, albeit with greater speed and within the responsible agency,” he said.

As the NTSB noted in its 11-page letter to Foxx, officials have tried to “fix” TOC before, most recently in the wake of the 2009 Red Line crash that killed nine people. The Transportation Department “does not believe that the NTSB recommendation is either the wisest or fastest way to bring about the necessary safety improvements” at Metro, said Foxx spokeswoman Suzanne Emmerling. “While we have made similar findings of oversight and management deficiency in recent inspections and audits, we disagree with their recommendation,” she said in an e-mail. Its problems include a January incident in which a Metro rail car filled with smoke in January, killing one passenger at the L’Enfant Plaza station, but it has also taken heavy criticism for a host of maintenance woes. She said the plan would focus on reforms to strengthen state oversight of Metro. “The NTSB is not wrong to assert that urgent action is needed; we just believe that there is an even more effective and faster way to achieve the safety goals we all share,” Emmerling said. “There has to be more oversight” and “I am on record as supporting the NTSB’s recommendation,” Connolly said. “If [Foxx] has a better plan, then let’s hear it. But until and unless he tells us about it, I support the NTSB.” Suggesting that Foxx’s decision might have been related to infighting between the transit and railroad administrations, Connolly said: “This is about public safety.

Nearly a half dozen reports have exposed lapses in everything from the way Metro keeps its books to the way it trains — or in many cases doesn’t — front line personnel responsible for safety. This is not about bureaucratic turf.” NTSB spokesman Peter Knudson said the safety board had no immediate public reaction to Foxx’s announcement but probably would at a later date. Metro has been under fire for most of the year following the death of a passenger on a smoke-filled train in January and a series of other safety lapses this year. Metro also declined to comment. “We take all recommendations of the NTSB seriously, but in this case, the NTSB is recommending shifting safety oversight from one agency to another,” the FTA said in a statement. “And these agencies have different authorities and areas of expertise.

He noted that the FRA has “robust inspection, oversight, regulatory, and enforcement authority,” while he described the FTA as relatively toothless. The FTA has only recently begun to build its oversight capabilities after Congress gave the agency new safety authority over subway, bus and light-rail operations in 2012. A derailment on Aug. 6 forced the closure of three busy downtown stations for nine hours, leaving thousands of frustrated passengers scrambling for alternatives. Last month, more than 250 passengers had to be rescued from a Green Line train after it lost power near the Georgia Avenue station. “I also applaud and appreciate Secretary Foxx’s acknowledgment of the urgent need for Metro to hire a new general manager,” he said. “Frankly, that is the single best thing that can be done right now to ensure the safe and reliable operation of the Metro system.” “Metro riders are fed up with the status quo of chronic delays and significant safety issues,” he said. “I share that frustration, and look forward to hearing more about how FTA plans to ensure that Metro is held accountable for improving safety and maintenance on the system.”

The resulting report, issued by the FTA in June, identified significant safety lapses, including a lack of adequate training for personnel and a chronically understaffed, chaotic rail-operations control center, where train controllers monitor the subway in real time.

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