Feds outline tougher oversight plan for subways, Metro

By |
Local,Transportation,Kytja Weir

Federal transportation officials are proposing to create national safety standards for the country's subway systems for the first time, sparked by Metro's deadly summer crash.

The proposal, laid out Tuesday before the House Highways and Transit subcommittee, would end a 1964 law limiting federal regulation of transit agencies. The plan also calls for bolstering 27 existing state safety oversight groups so they can be independent of the agencies they regulate, or letting groups with tougher standards opt out of the federal system.

Existing oversight

Federal transportation officials told Congress Tuesday that tougher regulation is needed over transit agencies such as Metro, noting that the existing 27 state oversight groups are what Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood called a "mixed bag" of oversight:

»  None of the safety organizations issue citations.

»  15 percent can levy fines transit agencies.

»  35 percent can issue emergency orders.

»  46 percent create safety standards.

»  62 percent conduct inspections but only 54 percent conduct them unannounced.

 

It is not clear how much the proposal would cost.

"We see safety as a nonnegotiable expense," said Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff.

He estimated the plan would costless than 1 percent of the agency's current $10 billion budget, putting it somewhere below $100 million a year. States would have three years to get the systems in place, he said.

The call for oversight has been suggested for years but grew stronger after the June 22 Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority crash in the nation's capital killed nine people and injured dozens more.

"After the WMATA crash, we were all sort of scratching our heads saying how come there's not someone here sounding the alarms?" Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told the panel.

The Tri-State Oversight Committee charged with overseeing Metro has become the poster child of the existing system's problems. The six-person committee has no office, no phone number and only recently created a temporary Web site. Even some top Metro officials did not know it existed.

It was stymied earlier this year when it asked Metro for documentation about the safety of the agency's oldest, Rohr 1000 Series rail cars, and when it asked to inspect live tracks.

It was stymied earlier this year when it asked Metro for documentation about the safety of the agency's oldest, Rohr 1000 Series rail cars, and when it asked to inspect live tracks.

On the other hand, the California Public Utilities Commission was portrayed as the paragon of oversight groups. Even so, Director Richard Clark said his group welcomed the proposal as a way to give inspectors more training.

It's not clear how the proposed regulations would fix one of the biggest challenges for improving safety on the nation's aging subway systems: The maintenance needed to keep the systems safe. An FTA study earlier this year said Metro and the six biggest subway systems nationwide had a $50 billion backlog that has left more than a third of the trains, rails and stations in "marginal or poor condition."

Locally, the National Transportation Safety Board has been telling Metro for years to replace the 1000 Series cars involved in the crash as they are uncrashworthy. But Metro has said replacing them would cost an estimated $870 million.

kweir@washingtonexaminer.com

 

View article comments Leave a comment
Author:

Kytja Weir

Staff Writer - Transportation
The Washington Examiner