FTA delivers scathing report on safety of D.C. Metro

The federal investigation claimed widespread flaws in Metro rail safety and severe inadequacies in the agency responsible for oversight. The Congress members, representing the D.C. area, reacted with comments of shock and horror.
By Lena H. Sun and Joe Stephens
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, March 5, 2010

A federal investigation has identified pervasive flaws in rail safety at Metro and severe inadequacies in the agency responsible for oversight. Findings released Thursday call for widespread changes in how the nation's second-busiest subway system is supervised and managed.

The sternly worded report, prepared by the Federal Transit Administration and presented Thursday to Washington area members of Congress, was the first in-depth look at Metro's safety program, FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff said. It revealed deep-rooted deficiencies at the transit agency and its independent oversight committee, highlighting vulnerabilities in the systems that are supposed to safeguard passengers and workers, he said.

The report excoriates Metro executives and the independent safety monitors at the Tri-State Oversight Committee, citing failures that include:

Metro has no process to ensure that safety problems are identified in a timely fashion. Top leaders don't receive regular reports about safety issues. The safety office has been marginalized within the agency, lacks access to key data about subway operations and has been left out of decision-making.

As a result of those problems, the report says, the safety office has allowed known hazards to remain uncorrected for years.

The findings will make it increasingly difficult to placate members of Congress who have called for "direct federal intervention" if Metro does not make immediate safety improvements, although Rogoff flatly ruled out a takeover of Metro by the FTA.

The findings will also put additional pressure on whoever ends up running Metro after John B. Catoe Jr. steps down as general manager April 2. On Thursday, the Metro board tapped former New Jersey Transit chief Richard Sarles to run the agency on an interim basis.

"Our audit makes clear that these two agencies are not doing enough to guarantee the safety of Metro passengers or Metro workers," Rogoff said, referring to Metro and its oversight body.

Rogoff said the safety performance of the Washington system was worse than others of similar size. He said the findings were a symptom of a much deeper problem, extending from executive leadership down to the most junior employee, and he urged the incoming Metro general manager to use the report as a "road map" for the "overarching safety problem."

Rogoff, a daily rider on the Orange and Green lines, said the agency needs "radical restructuring," including "knocking some heads and putting some people on the unemployment line."

Rogoff presented his findings to the four senators from Maryland and Virginia and four House members: Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Donna F. Edwards (D-Md.) and Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.).

"This is a shocking, hair-raising and chilling review of the safety situation at Metro and a failure of its management and the board," said Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), reflecting the sentiments of others. A key proponent of federal funding for Metro, she warned that her support would depend on what steps the agency takes to address the broad leadership issues raised by the FTA.

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