How seriously will Metro act on NTSB recommendations?

By Robert Thomson
Sunday, August 1, 2010

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

The release of the National Transportation Safety Board report [on Metro's Red Line crash] should present no radically new information. Metro's problems are documented thoroughly and can be attested to by anyone who uses the system regularly.

What troubles me the most is what I heard on local TV and radio news: that only one Metro board member attended the hearing, and even then, that person did not stay for the entire presentation. Are they trying to avoid being in the spotlight or answering tough questions? Granted, they probably heard the details of the report beforehand, but as a group that has responsibility for the system, I would have expected them to be present.

This points out the need for fundamental changes in how Metro is managed. The Metro board is essentially a political entity. As evidenced with funding issues, when push comes to shove, board members look at their constituencies ahead of the system as a whole. Perhaps it's time to eliminate the board altogether and replace it with a professional management system -- some kind of privately run operation or a government-private partnership that can manage the system like a business, set goals and expectations, manage performance, and so on.

I don't know what the answer is, but increasingly, I am less impressed by the Metro board and wonder if it is the most effective body to take the system in the fresh, new direction that is desperately needed.

-- Tim Ralston, Kensington

There's a story about a reporter asking a relief pitcher if it worried him to come into a close game with runners already on base. "Heck, no," the pitcher replied. "I didn't put 'em there."

Let this Metro board take responsibility for the mess that developed on its watch. These board members are at least as likely to make progress as a new crowd of overseers. Besides handing the Metro board its collective head last week, the NTSB handed over a long list of complicated recommendations to improve safety.

Being right there to receive the list wasn't critical. Metro Board Chairman Peter Benjamin was unavoidably out of the country. Vice Chairman Catherine Hudgins, a Fairfax County supervisor, was there but also had to attend a county board meeting. Interim General Manager Richard Sarles was there, too.

What's really going to count is how seriously the board takes the shellacking it got and what it does about it. If you start hearing what sounds like, "We're already doing that stuff," then we're in real trouble. If you hear them say, "We're putting safety first," then we're only so-so -- they've been saying that for years.

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