Several Members of Congress have long thought the federal government should have more oversight over the Washington, DC Metro System. It’s believed that the U.S. Department of Transportation would do the same thing for Metro that it did for airlines and Amtrak: guidelines will be set, enforced, and fine the offenders.
This is largely in part to the crash three years ago that killed nine people on Metro’s Red Line.
Now, it looks like the federal government is one step closer to overseeing the DC Metro. The new federal transportation plan is expected to receive final approval soon. It will require transit authorities to develop safety plans, evaluate safety risks, set repair criteria and put employees through a federally certified safety training program.
The Washington Post reported,
The Obama administration had sought the legislation, which was championed by Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Benjamin L. Cardin, both Maryland Democrats.
“We welcome oversight, and that includes federal oversight,” said Richard Sarles, general manager of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. “We’re pleased to see that the conference report includes authority for the Secretary to provide oversight of transit safety, as well as certification training for those responsible for oversight.”
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) determined that a malfunction of the automatic train control system was the direct cause of the Red Line crash. US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood had said a few months ago that after the metro crash people were sitting around scratching their heads, trying to figure out what to do.
‘Hey, we’ve got to do something about this,’ he told a media outlet. “And we discovered that there’s not much we could do, because the law wouldn’t allow us to do it.”
The accident happened near the Fort Totten station, in northeast DC. Lawmakers from around the country gave the District of Columbia the cold shoulder because there wasn’t a proper system in place. The NTSB strongly urged Congress to allow the Federal Transportation Administration (FTA) to enforce national transit safety standards across the nation and not just in DC.
Virginia US House of Representatives Frank R. Wolf (R) said the federal government having more control sounded like a credible way to fix a broken oversight system.
“We have federal safety standards for planes, trains and automobiles. It’s shocking we don’t have them for the 7 million Americans who rely on metro systems every day,” said Maryland US Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D), who has previously introduced such legislation.
The problem is that the current system failed to detect another train, and it failed to guide another to advance toward the previous train at full speed. The NTSB warned that chronic failures of the track circuitry led to negligence on Metro’s part, which caused the accident. It was destined to happen, the report said.
Congress has new requirements that will apply to all public transportation systems that get federal funds, and that includes Metro. DC isn’t the only place that would be affected. Large systems in New York, Boston, Los Angeles and San Francisco would also come under federal oversight. The Obama administration has been completely behind the federal government taking over safety regulation of DC’s subway and light-rail systems.
“I am proud that the D.C. regional delegation has been able to work together to secure the inclusion of this critical safety provision in the transportation conference agreement,” said Maryland US House of Representatives Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) to The Post. “The lack of minimum federal safety requirements for transit vehicles was a glaring loophole in federal law, and one that had tragic consequences in our region in the 2009 Red Line crash. Under this legislation, the FTA will finally have the authority it needs to ensure that transit, like every other mode of transportation, meets a uniform benchmark for safety.”