Metro chairman joins calls for more federal oversight of transit

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Local,Transportation,Kytja Weir

Metro's chairman supports a push for more federal safety standards and oversight of the transit agency and other subway systems around the country.

"We need it," Metro Board Chairman Jim Graham said. "The Federal Transit Administration not only doesn't have this power, they are explicitly prevented by law from setting safety standards. What we have now is an absurd situation."

The D.C. councilman added that the Tri-State Oversight Committee, the local group charged with overseeing Metro, has not filled the void.

"It's obvious to everyone at this point that by now -- I'm not being critical of them but the structure and their resources -- they haven't had much impact," he said.

The push for federal regulation of Metro and other transit agencies has been mounting ever since a June 22 train crash in D.C. killed nine and injured dozens more. The local congressional delegation has advocated for it, proposing two bills, collectively dubbed the National Metro Safety Act, as have federal transportation officials.

However, it is not clear what federal oversight would look like, how much it would cost or how early it could begin.

The paired bills, introduced in Congress over the summer, call for the U.S. transportation secretary to create and enforce national safety standards for, among other things, the crashworthiness of trains, emergency access and egress, event recorders, and hours of service.

Late last month, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood convened a newly created safety council to tackle critical transportation safety issues. A spokesman for the Federal Transit Administration said the working group, led by Transportation Deputy Secretary John Porcari, would soon present plans for transit agency regulation. The approach would be similar to that already used for airlines and commuter trains.

Late last month, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood convened a newly created safety council to tackle critical transportation safety issues. A spokesman for the Federal Transit Administration said the working group, led by Transportation Deputy Secretary John Porcari, would soon present plans for transit agency regulation. The approach would be similar to that already used for airlines and commuter trains.

A sketch of the plans could be detailed on Dec. 8 when LaHood and Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff are slated to testify about transit oversight before a House subcommittee that is reviewing the legislation.

But Graham said Metro was taking some steps to address its problems in the meantime. As of Friday, he said, the system's Chief Safety Officer Alexa Dupigny-Samuels has begun reporting to Metro's Chief of Transit Police Michael Taborn.

Dupigny-Samuels had been criticized for telling the local Tri-State Oversight Committee this spring that it could not inspect tracks where trains were operating. The TOC worked out a deal last week to get access to the working tracks.

Graham said he pushed for a review of Dupigny-Samuels' actions after The Washington Post first reported on it last week. "I had certainly had performance issues regarding the chief safety officer. This is the response of the general manager to the question I raised," he said.

"I'm willing to give this a chance," Graham added. "I'm not going to say this is the end."

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