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Budget amendment would provide additonal dollars to beef up federal oversight of Metrorail

The Senate this week passed a transportation funding bill that will provide $2.5 million more to fund federal oversight of Metro’s rail operations.

The money, part of an amendment offered by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), would allow the Federal Transit Administration to hire more than two-dozen additional staff members to  bolster its safety oversight efforts of Metro.

Last year, the FTA took on temporary responsibility for safety oversight of the nation’s second busiest rail system after Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx concluded the previous safety oversight group, the Tri-State Oversight Committee, was ill-equipped and unable to do the job. FTA will continue to be responsible for safety oversight until a new state-based safety group is formed.

Since taking on the job in October, the FTA had conducted a series of surprise inspections and a safety blitz that identified myriad safety shortcomings, including nonworking fire extinguishers, blocked safety paths in tunnels and a lack of safety training for front-line employees.

On Friday, Metro’s chief executive and general manager, Paul J. Wiedefeld, fired 20 managers, a third of which came from the rail operations.

Study cited need for better training at Metro’s rail control center

In a report released Wednesday by the Federal Transit Administration significant flaws were reveled in the operations of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, which included inadequate training and understaffing. (Video: WUSA9)

Mikulski’s amendment will provide an additional $2.5 million in funding to hire safety inspectors and investigators.  Six of the inspectors would work in Metro’s Rail Operation Control Center (ROCC), which manages traffic throughout the system. The center has been sharply criticized in a series of reports because it is often short-staffed and its personnel are inadequately trained and supervised. The additional dollars also would provide funding for four additional investigators to conduct independent investigations of safety events. Roughly 100 such investigations are conducted each year.  In total, the bill will provide $5.25 million to the FTA for safety efforts linked to Metro.

Mikulski says funding for Metro will include strings

“Safety first must be Metro’s number one priority,” said Mikulski in a prepared statement. “This bill provides safety resources for Metro’s new turnaround management and ensures riders are not short-changed. I’ve fought tooth and nail for federal funding to improve the safety, security and reliability of Metro. My amendment provides FTA with the manpower needed to make sure Metro is improving the safety of the system.”

The funding bill also provides $150 million in funding for Metro’s infrastructure — part of a 10-year, $1.5 billion plan passed in 2008.

The Senate and House will now work out their differences until a final bill emerges, is approved by both houses and sent to the president for his signature.