Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx stepped up his pressure on Metro to improve its safety performance Thursday by replacing three members of the transit agency’s board with experienced transportation-safety professionals.
Foxx, who has been frustrated by the delay in creating a new Metro safety oversight office, made clear in a written announcement that his impatience was growing with the agency and the three local jurisdictions that help govern it.
“Given the continued urgency, we will be forced to use every available lever at our discretion to force action as soon as possible to improve safety for the traveling public,” Foxx said. “No more excuses.”
In a timely reminder of the problems that Foxx wants addressed, Metro announced a four-day service slowdown along part of the Red Line so work crews can carry out what the agency called a “maintenance surge.”
The repair effort follows several days of Red Line disruptions between the Van Ness-UDC and Medical Center stations — including an emergency evacuation of train passengers Saturday night because of an electrical problem that caused smoke in a tunnel.
[Metro sank into crisis despite decades of warnings.]The three new federal board members, who will take office June 1, are Carol Carmody, former vice chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board; David Strickland, former administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration; and Robert Lauby, chief safety officer of the Federal Railroad Administration.
They will replace Mortimer Downey, who recently completed a term as board chairman; Harriet Tregoning, a senior official at the Department of Housing and Urban Development: and Anthony R. Giancola, former executive director of the National Association of County Engineers.
Foxx praised the outgoing directors for their “excellent service,” but there was no mistaking his desire to force change on the board so Metro would deal more aggressively with safety.
Despite decades of warnings from the federal government and others, Metro has failed to instill a safety-first mind-set in its workforce and allowed its equipment to deteriorate so much that it sometimes endangers riders.
“Building a safety culture is not easy and requires relentless focus at every level,” Foxx wrote. “These three new Federal members will build on our promise to bring a laser-like focus on making the transit system of our nation’s capital as safe as possible.”
Foxx’s action comes at a time of increased scrutiny of Metro’s governing structure, which has long been blamed as a contributor to the agency’s difficulties.
A few hours after the announcement, Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.) filed a bill in the House that would require three of the federal government’s four board appointees to be certified as experts in transportation, management, finance or safety.
Delaney said it appeared that the three new members meet his bill’s standards, but he still wanted the requirements codified into law.
The bill also provides that if the Metro Compact — the agency’s governing document — is amended, then the same standards would apply to members appointed by the three local jurisdictions that also govern Metro. The District, Virginia and Maryland each appoint four board members.
The Metro board chairman, Jack Evans, was cool to the bill, suggesting that Congress would do better to give Metro more money.
“It’s an interesting bill [but] I don’t know that having any kind of background in transit or other things is necessary to be a board member,” Evans said, noting that he would be precluded from serving on the board. A lawyer by training, Evans has been a D.C. Council member for 25 years, representing Ward 2.
Evans has been pressing Congress to give Metro $300 million a year — approximately what each of the three local jurisdictions contributes — to help the agency cover its annual operational deficit.
“Here’s what I would say. . . . I would ask every member of Congress who wants to help to get me my $300 million. . . . Don’t introduce [a] bill to change the chairs on the deck of the Titanic,” Evans said. “Congressman Delaney, congressman whoever — here, there and everywhere — help me get my $300 million. I can’t tell you anything that’s more critical to the agency.”
Foxx has taken an unusually hands-on approach to safety at Metro.
In October, following a series of high-profile safety lapses, Foxx announced that the Federal Transit Administration would take responsibility for safety oversight of Metro’s rail system. The move was recognition that the current regional safety agency, the Tri-State Oversight Committee had largely failed in its job.
Foxx also has kept the pressure on leaders in the District, Maryland and Virginia to set up a replacement body. He has threatened to withhold federal funds if they fail to act by the end of this year.
Thursday’s appointments also might be seen as an effort to blunt criticism from the NTSB, which is expected to release its report on the fatal 2015 Yellow Line smoke incident early next month.
Of the new board members, Carmody and Strickland will be voting members. Lauby will be an alternate, who votes only when one of the two federal voting members is absent.
The fourth current federal representative, Anthony E. Costa, an alternate member, remains on the board.
The most prominent member to exit the board is Downey, a former U.S. deputy secretary of transportation. He said he did not view his replacement as a rebuke of his performance in six years on the Metro board.
He said he talked with Foxx about it and the secretary “says it is not in his view that this is taking any objection to anything I’ve done.”
Instead, Downey said, “they’re doing what they think is necessary, and they’re looking for results.”
During the maintenance work on the Red Line, trains share one track between Van Ness and Medical Center on Thursday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and from 8 p.m. to midnight; and all day and night over the weekend.
Because of the single-tracking, wait times between trains will be extended by at least 20 minutes.
Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld said the repairs were necessary in part because that section of the subway is especially deep and has long been plagued by moisture seeping in from the ground.
Lori Aratani contributed to this report.