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Rail News: Passenger Rail

FTA pulls some WMATA funding for now

The FTA has been providing direct safety oversight for WMATA since October 2015.
Photo – FTA


The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) is withholding a portion of funding for transit systems in Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C., after the three jurisdictions failed to establish a state safety oversight program for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority's (WMATA) rail system.

Until the jurisdictions set up an oversight agency for WMATA, the FTA will withhold 5 percent of fiscal-year 2017 transit formula funds. Under the current continuing budget resolution through April 28, this amounts to about $8.9 million, FTA officials said in a press release.

However, based on full-year appropriation, the total amount would be $15 million.

The decision went into effect Feb. 10, which was the deadline for the states and District of Columbia to create the safety oversight body.

"By law, states have the primary responsibility for overseeing the safe operation of their rail transit systems, not only for riders but for transit operators and workers," said FTA Executive Director Matthew Welbes.

Although the federal agency has been providing safety oversight for WMATA's rail system since October 2015, that role is temporary, Welbes added.

The fatal collision of two WMATA trains in June 2009 underscored the inadequacy of the existing Tri-State Oversight Committee, which previously provided safety oversight for the transit agency. Since April 2010, the three jurisdictions have "recognized the need for the creation of a new, stronger and more effective oversight program" for the agency, FTA officials said.

But the jurisdictions made no "meaningful efforts" toward establishing the safety oversight program or crafting supporting legislation until after the FTA assumed safety oversight responsibilities, they added.

The jurisdictions still need to pass identical legislation for the oversight body and submit a certification application and documentation showing that the new body has independence from the transit system it oversees.

In addition, Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia must verify with the FTA that the new oversight agency has adequate enforcement, oversight, inspection, investigation and audit capabilities.