For years, he made recommendations to improve safety at Metro. Finally, he’s going to be able to force the transit agency to listen.
On Tuesday, Christopher A. Hart — former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board — was elected chairman of the Metro Safety Commission, a new independent oversight body created to monitor safety at the transit agency.
Hart is well-acquainted with Metro: He served on the board in the aftermath of both the 2009 Red Line crash at Fort Totten station, and the 2015 L’Enfant Plaza smoke disaster. And in both cases, he was part of the team of federal investigators who presented a robust set of recommendations to Metro on how to improve the system.
But now, as chair of the region’s Metro Safety Commission, Hart will finally be able to enforce those recommendations.
“It’ll help me get into not only the recommendations to make things better, but actual actions to make things better,” Hart said after the Tuesday meeting where he was elected to the leadership role by his fellow commissioners.
Eventually, after the commission submits its application for federal certification and receives official approval from the Federal Transit Administration to function as a safety oversight agency, Hart and the other members will be able to penalize Metro with fines for violating safety protocol, and will be able to force the transit agency to take immediate action on safety concern, such as pulling tracks or trains out of service.
“Now we’re in a position to implement those ideas” that the NTSB has espoused in its years of recommendations, Hart said, “so it’s a great opportunity, and as a Metro rider myself it’s up-close-and-personal.”
The commission also chose Mark Rosenker, another former chairman of the NTSB, as vice-chair.
When the pair were nominated, Hart expressed gratitude for the vote of confidence.
“I’m honored for that compliment,” Hart said, “and I’m glad to know that it pays well, too.”
“Chris,” Rosenker joked, “do you know something that I don’t?”
(Commissioners on the new board are technically unpaid, though they receive a $200 stipend per meeting.)
The commission is still in the beginning stages. On Tuesday, members said they have received numerous applications from people interested in the job of the commission’s executive director — a salaried position — and are in the process of working to narrow those applications down to a short list of candidates.
After the meeting, Hard said one of his eventual goals is to use safety practices from other transportation industries — particularly the highly-regulated world of aviation — to help improve practices at Metro.
“This will give us an opportunity to transfer learning from other modes,” Hart said.
But all that will have to come after the Metro Safety Commission is certified by officials at the Federal Transit Administration — a process that could continue through the end of this year.
“Sooner is better, so we’re acting with that in mind. We want to do this as soon as possible,” Hart said.
The next Metro Safety Commission meeting is scheduled for April 10.