D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) wants a congressional hearing on the federal government’s Metro shutdown plan, the contingency document that outlines what would happen if federal officials determined a substantial safety risk on the subway warranted a full or partial shutdown.
In a letter to three ranking officials on Congress’s transportation and transit subcommittees, Norton calls for official testimony on the unprecedented plan, which had not been seen by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority or the incoming Metrorail Safety Commission when it was obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request last month. The plan was developed at the height of Metro’s safety crisis in 2016.
“A plan with such sweeping implications for the nation’s capital and the national capital region, dominated by the federal government, should not be a secret, particularly from the top officials responsible for Metro and top local and regional officers,” Norton wrote in the letter. “Notwithstanding the need for confidentiality regarding elements of the plan related to national security, it is irresponsible not to allow WMATA and MSC some access to the plan if a takeover is to proceed smoothly.”
The Washington Post obtained and published the plan in full this week as part of a story outlining the contingency scenarios and implications for federal and regional agencies. The Federal Transit Administration said it remains an active plan, and could be used to facilitate a shutdown even after safety oversight is handed over the regional Metrorail Safety Commission. (Congress in 2012 gave the FTA sweeping authority to address safety risks on U.S. transit systems).
It is the only shutdown plan the federal government has developed for any transit agency under its purview. Scenarios addressed in the plan include a indefinite, federally-mandated systemwide closure, a line or segment closure, and the removal of a certain model or series of railcar from service.
“The Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) internal document outlining the mechanics of a federally mandated shutdown of WMATA has existed since December of 2016, but was never shared with WMATA or the Metrorail Safety Commission (MSC), the agency that would eventually assume oversight of WMATA,” Norton wrote to the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, and the subcommittee on highways and transit. “Without The Washington Post’s recent investigation and publication, the plan would have been a surprise to Metro officials.”
Norton argues the region must provide critical input on any such plan, a step the federal government neglected to take when it developed the document in 2016, according to the letter.
“Holding a hearing on a federally mandated shutdown of Metrorail would allow Congress to obtain critical information on the federal government’s plan and ensure that key stakeholders in the operation of our region’s Metrorail system are sufficiently informed and have an opportunity to be heard on this important subject,” Norton said in the letter. “If the point is to make the plan as effective as possible, top stakeholders almost surely have useful contributions.”