Federal oversight coming for Metro safety

Linda Davidson/THE WASHINGTON POST - A Metro Police Honor Guard carries a memorial wreath inside to the Ft. Tottten Metro station in Washington, DC on June 22, 2011. Metro officials held a memorial ceremony to honor the nine people who were killed two years ago in the Red Line crash.

Congress has mandated greater federal oversight of public transit systems, reacting in large part to the crash the killed nine people on Metro’s Red Line three years ago.

The new federal transportation plan expected to receive final approval this week requires transit authorities to develop safety plans, evaluate safety risks, set repair criteria and put employees through a federally certified safety training program.

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The Obama administration had sought the legislation, which was championed by Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Benjamin L. Cardin, both Maryland Democrats.

“We welcome oversight, and that includes federal oversight,” said Richard Sarles, general manager of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. “We’re pleased to see that the conference report includes authority for the Secretary to provide oversight of transit safety, as well as certification training for those responsible for oversight.”

The National Transportation Safety Board determined that a malfunction of the automatic train control system was the direct cause of the Red Line crash. The system failed to detect the presence of a train and directed another to advance toward it at full speed. But the NTSB went on to say that chronic failures of track circuitry, a negligent safety attitude at Metro and weak oversight made the crash inevitable.

The new requirements set by Congress apply to all public transportation systems that get federal funds, but it was the June 22, 2009, Metro crash that focused Capitol Hill attention.

“I am proud that the D.C. regional delegation has been able to work together to secure the inclusion of this critical safety provision in the transportation conference agreement,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.). “The lack of minimum federal safety requirements for transit vehicles was a glaring loophole in federal law, and one that had tragic consequences in our region in the 2009 Red Line crash. Under this legislation, the FTA will finally have the authority it needs to ensure that transit, like every other mode of transportation, meets a uniform benchmark for safety.”

aratanil@washpost.com

 
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