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Rail News: Safety

FTA reports progress on WMATA's safety practices


The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has carried out more than 100 inspections and directed millions of dollars in funding to support safety priorities in its first six months of temporary safety oversight of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority's (WMATA) rail system, FTA Senior Adviser Carolyn Flowers told Congress yesterday.

During those inspections, the FTA identified 229 defects requiring WMATA to implement 66 remedial actions. In addition, the federal agency is in the midst of a three-part safety blitz focused on red signal overruns, track integrity and rail vehicle securement. A final report of this safety blitz is expected to be made public in early summer, Flowers said.

The FTA's temporary role is to verify that WMATA is making progress on implementing its corrective action plan and remedial actions until Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C., create a new state safety oversight agency. WMATA developed the corrective action plan last year in response to a previously issued safety directive from the FTA.

"In a short time, FTA has provided more thorough safety oversight over WMATA than it has ever received," Flowers said in written testimony prepared for the U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform panel. "We continue to closely monitor that its federal funds are tied to safety priorities and improving a state of good repair for WMATA facilities and equipment."

The federal agency is also charged with ensuring that WMATA is carrying out its own critical maintenance, operations and safety programs, FTA officials said in a press release.

Also at the hearing, WMATA General Manager and Chief Executive Officer Paul Wiedefeld noted that he'll soon unveil a comprehensive plan for fixing the agency's safety problems, the newspaper reported. The plan may involve shutting down portions of track and running shuttle buses in their place, he said.

"I am not talking about a six-month shutdown," said Wiedefeld, according to The Washington Post's coverage of the hearing.

Late last month, WMATA Chairman Jack Evans discussed the possibility of shutting down entire rail lines for several months to perform maintenance work.

Prior to yesterday's hearing, WMATA released an 89-page report by global consulting firm McKinsey & Co. that spelled out necessary steps to improve the agency's safety, reliability and finances.  

The company carried out "deep dives" into a host of the agency's operation areas, including rail-car maintenance, customer service, real-estate and paratransit.

The report noted that rail-car maintenance remains "the single most important determinant of service reliability and a major driver of safety, cost and customer satisfaction."

Additionally, 63 percent of WMATA's rail delays are caused by rail-car failures, the report said.