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Metro bills would regulate subways, fund system

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Local,Transportation,Maria Schmitt

A bill introduced by Sen. Barbara Mikulski would create federal safety regulations for subway systems such as Metro.

The legislation from the Maryland Democrat asks for specific standards concerning the structural crashworthiness of rail cars, emergency response standards and data recorders — items lawmakers are concerned about after the deadly June 22 Red Line crash. It has moved to the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

“We need to develop federal standards ... to keep our Metro passengers and crew safe, secure and on the move,” Mikulski said. “Other forms of transportation have these standards. It’s time Metro has them, too.”

The bill would require the Federal Transit Administration, transportation secretary and National Transportation Safety Board to create the standards, which also would include a rule limiting transit agencies’ hours of service to make sure that operators are able to “obtain adequate sleep.”

A spokesman for the American Public Transportation Association said the group’s government affairs team talked with senators and hoped to work the group’s nonbinding standards into the proposed legislation.

A handful of organizations contribute to overseeing Metro safety, but most lack teeth. Metro oversight was the subject of a congressional hearing July 14 that brought together lawmakers, federal and Metro officials and a survivor of the crash that killed nine and injured more than 70.

Mikulski’s bill criticizes the FTA for not establishing safety standards at the NTSB’s bidding.

The bill also calls for the inclusion of previous NTSB recommendations in safety standards.

The Senate is set to pick up a bill the House passed last week that would provide Metro with $150 million and is part of a 10-year, $1.5 billion package that Congress promised the transit agency in October. Virginia, Maryland and the District must each match congressional funding, donating $50 million each per year. The bill was spurred on by Metro authorities’ plea for funding to repair aging, possibly unsafe rail lines.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., has pushed hard for rail safety oversight since the crash.

“No amount of money will ever be enough to offset safety standards and regulations that can prevent tragedies like the June 22 Metro collision,” she said in a news release.

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