There is a new chairman for the safety watchdog group that helps oversees Metro.
Klara Baryshev took over Saturday for Jim Benton, who stepped down as chairman of the Tri-State Oversight Committee (TOC). The chairmanship of the TOC is a three-year position that rotates between the representatives who serve on it from the District, Maryland and Virginia.
The change comes as Metro and the TOC have said they’ve worked over the last few years to improve their relationship.
Benton served on the TOC for three years, having been the chairman since June 2012. Prior to that, he was the vice chairman of the TOC. He said he is retiring from his job at the Maryland Department of Transportation and plans to work at a private firm in Baltimore. He did not disclose the name of his new employer.
Baryshev, who served as Benton’s vice chairman for the last year, previously worked at Metro for 23 years. During that time, she served as a safety officer, an assistant safety engineer and a quality assurance inspector.
The transit agency and the oversight group, which has no enforcement power over Metro, have had a strained relationship. At times, TOC members were denied access to records or to inspect Metro tracks.
TOC came under harsh criticism after the deadly 2009 Fort Totten crash on Metro’s Red Line, when nine people were killed and dozens injured, for its lack of oversight authority of of the transit agency. The oversight group went from one full-time person to three full-time employees after the incident, and each of the jurisdictions pledged more funds to it. The TOC’s annual budget is now about $800,000, and it could get more funding as part of a federal push to have more oversight of transit systems nationwide.
Since then, the TOC and Metro have also worked to improve their interactions.
Benton said he believes TOC now has better “access to [Metro’s] internal information systems so we can make sure we’re getting unbiased data that we can review.”
“I think in the past we were getting information, but it was sugarcoated,” he said. TOC now has direct access to Metro’s safety measurement system and maintenance database.
“It will be a continual effort to make sure that doesn’t happen,” he said of the sugarcoating.
Baryshev said she “would like to have [Metro] as safe as possible in all aspects.”
She said TOC has started its tri-annual audit of Metro and plans to have it completed in 2014. The audit looks at safety aspects in several areas of Metro from its procurement of products, to communications, maintenance of rail cars and the condition of tracks, she said.
Metro has had a recent uptick in the number of train operators running red signals, along with a derailment on the Red Line near the Rhode Island Avenue station, and two incidents where passengers — without assistance — got off trains that had troubles.
Baryshev said TOC was looking into incidents like these “individually” and “looking for trends.”
“There is always a place for improvement,” she said. “The system is good. The personnel is excellent. But safety always requires improvement.”