By Lena H. Sun and Joe Stephens
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Metro board Chairman Jim Graham said Tuesday that the transit agency has lifted a long-standing ban and will allow independent safety monitors access to live subway tracks.
Since spring, the agency had barred monitors from the body that oversees safety at Metro from getting onto the track bed while trains were in operation.
"We are reversing that, we are rejecting that, we are repudiating that," Graham said.
Late Tuesday, Metro officials issued a statement affirming that the Tri-State Oversight Committee has the authority to "conduct safety inspections and ensure that employees are complying with safety rules and procedures."
Nevertheless, Eric Madison, chairman of the oversight committee, said Tuesday evening that he still considered the ban in place because no one from Metro had contacted him.
"My phone has been suspiciously quiet today," Madison said. "It's a little strange."
Graham's action follows a report Monday in The Washington Post that revealed that subway officials, including Metro safety chief Alexa Dupigny-Samuels, had denied access to the monitors, who sought to ensure that Metro was following worker safety rules after employees had been killed on the tracks.
Following the report, Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) called on U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to investigate Metro's treatment of the committee. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), who chairs a transportation subcommittee, said he would hold a hearing in the next few weeks.
Graham said that he met with Metro General Manager John B. Catoe Jr. on Tuesday and that "it was most clearly agreed" that there would be "no impediments placed in the way" of the inspectors.
Metro's statement also said that "contrary to the implication of previously written" letters, the committee had access to Metro's track bed.
One of those letters, sent to the committee May 29 in response to a request for access, said: "We are sorry to inform you that your request to have employee type access to the [right of way] during all operational phases is denied." In that letter, Dupigny-Samuels said the monitors could go to an "isolated worksite" on a weekend where the monitors could have "a clear observation of Metro's compliance" with safety rules.
Graham said he agreed with monitors who wanted access to active tracks and not "a remote location where they turn off the power and stand around and chit-chat."
Graham acknowledged that some statements issued by Metro officials in response to questions from The Post were contradicted by documents turned up in the investigation. He called it an example of continuing "internal and external communication problems."
Madison said the Tuesday statement from Metro appeared contradictory and contained no new information. Until Metro provides the committee with a formal written agreement, he said, it will consider the ban in effect.
"Aside from the press release, I haven't heard anything," Madison said. "We want to get something in writing that lays out the specifics of how we access the right of way and that sort of thing. This has gone on long enough."