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Rail News: Federal Legislation & Regulation

Foxx orders FTA to take direct safety oversight of WMATA


The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) will assume responsibility for safety lapses at the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), according to a safety plan announced by U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx late last week.

In a letter to National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Chairman Christopher Hart, Foxx said he agreed with the NTSB’s urgent request for immediate federal action to correct safety problems at WMATA, but that oversight should be handled by the FTA rather than the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA).

Late last month, the NTSB — which has been investigating WMATA since a January smoke and electrical arcing accident that resulted in one passenger fatality — expressed concerns to Foxx about the transit agency's safety culture, and asked the U.S. Department of Transportation seek approval from Congress to have the FRA assume control of the agency’s safety issues.

In his response to the NTSB’s request, Foxx indicated that the FTA oversight would be a “faster, more effective way” to address the problems at WMATA under the federal MAP-21 law, in which Congress increased FTA’s authority to enforce safety rules at transit agencies.

Foxx agreed that the Tri-State Oversight Committee, the entity charged with safety oversight at WMATA, has been ineffective.

"The FTA has the capability to assert this authority and, at my direction, will do so immediately," Foxx wrote.

Although WMATA will continue to run the day-to-day operations of its Metrorail system, the FTA will directly enforce and investigate the safety oversight until the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia establish a new “State Safety Oversight Agency” to run safety matters at WMATA. The FTA also will order WMATA to  address current safety deficiencies, and come up with a corrective action plan to fix previously unaddressed safety problems.

The FTA also will conduct unannounced inspections of WMATA and its facilities.

Foxx also said the agency should immediately hire a general manager. WMATA has been operating under a temporary manager since GM Richard Sarles retired in January.

"The urgency of having accountable leadership at the helm of WMATA cannot be overstated," Foxx wrote.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 10/12/2015