D.C. transit police chief to oversee safety officer

By Lena H. Sun and Joe Stephens
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 14, 2009

Metro is increasing supervision of its safety chief after complaints that she barred independent safety monitors from access to live railroad tracks, board Chairman Jim Graham announced Friday.

Alexa Dupigny-Samuels will keep her title and duties but will be supervised by Transit Police Chief Michael Taborn, Graham said. She would consult with Taborn "before key decisions are made," he said. "If she makes decisions or writes letters or communicates something, she needs to tell the chief, 'Here is what I'm thinking of doing.' "

Taborn was in charge of transit safety at the Federal Transit Administration before he became Metro's police chief in February 2008.

The change was ordered by General Manager John B. Catoe Jr. after discussions with board members, Graham said. Taborn's involvement is "an indication that she needs the type of supervision that would be brought by someone with his extensive background in safety," Graham said. "This is an effort to improve the sum and substance of our safety program."

Graham, who is also a D.C. Council member, said that he did not seek "this particular management decision" but that he pressed for Catoe to review the safety office's performance after The Washington Post reported Monday that, since spring, the safety department had declined to give monitors from the Tri-State Oversight Committee access to active subway tracks. The monitors were trying to find out whether Metro was following safety rules after employees were killed on the tracks.

"I am willing to give it a try . . . to see how it works," Graham said of the new arrangement.

Asked whether Dupigny-Samuels had been demoted, Graham replied: "I would consider this a reorganization of her responsibilities in recognition of events."

After the newspaper 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, also said he would hold a hearing in the next few weeks.

Late Tuesday, Graham announced that the transit agency would lift the ban and allow the monitors access to conduct safety inspections and ensure that Metro employees are complying with safety rules and procedures. The oversight committee chairman, Eric Madison, said Friday that committee members met with Metro officials and are working out a written agreement on access.

"Metro should have given access," said Peter Benjamin, a Maryland transit agency board member. He said board members had not been aware of the oversight committee's request for track access or of Metro's responses.

"I really think that there was a perception that Alexa could use some additional assistance in making some of her policy decisions," he said.

Metro spokesman Steven Taubenkibel gave a different account. He said Dupigny-Samuels requested Taborn's assistance "while the agency works through issues of safety oversight" in preparation for National Transportation Safety Board hearings into June's deadly Red Line crash.

He said she made the request because of Taborn's "extensive safety and security experience" as director of the transit safety office at the FTA.

"I know what your next question is: Is this a demotion for the Chief Safety Officer?" Taubenkibel wrote in an e-mail.

"Alexa is still the Chief Safety Officer. Chief Taborn is still the Chief of Metro Transit Police and Emergency Management. This is strictly a request for guidance on behalf of the Chief Safety Officer."

Dupigny-Samuels was promoted to chief safety chief in February. She oversees operational system safety, passenger and vehicle safety, environmental safety and health, and safety training.

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