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Feds Pressure Region's Leaders To Act On Metro Safety Before 2019 Deadline

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The head of the federal agency temporarily in charge of safety oversight of Metro is calling on regional leaders to get moving on establishing a permanent safety body.

“It is now November of 2015 and there continues to be insufficient progress,” said Therese McMillan, the acting administrator of the Federal Transit Administration, in remarks before the board of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG).

In 2010, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia agreed to replace the ineffective Tri-State Oversight Committee (TOC) with an independent commission possessing regulatory authority to enforce safety rules on Metrorail, the second-busiest subway system in America. TOC was found to be ineffective in the aftermath of the 2009 Red Line disaster at Fort Totten.

In 2012, Congress passed legislation requiring the three jurisdictions to act. The deadline is in 2019.

“States need not and must not wait for the final deadline,” said McMillan, who said 30 other states have established transit oversight agencies.

McMillan implored regional officials to complete the task in the next year. “Virginia, Maryland, and the District need to expedite transition of the TOC into a new and stronger state safety oversight agency.”

But time is a factor. Establishing the Metro Safety Commission requires legislation in each of the three jurisdictions, but the legislative sessions in Maryland and Virginia will end in April and March, respectively.

“I don’t think it is unrealistic to expect the three jurisdictions can get together in the next few weeks so there is legislation that can be put before the Maryland and Virginia assemblies when they convene in January,” said D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, a member of the COG board.

“This can’t be that complicated. This is about safety. Maryland has a different view of safety than Virginia? I don’t think so. I think we are all pretty much on the same page,” he said. The D.C. Council faces no such time crunch because it is in session year-round.

The three separate legislative bodies must comply with federal guidelines established in the 2012 federal law and produce identical bills.

“Process-wise, it’s a little complicated. It’s not clear to me what would need to be done by all three states,” said Maryland State Senator Brian Feldman (D-Montgomery County), who also sits on the COG board.

McMillan repeatedly emphasized that the FTA’s new, direct oversight of Metro, a result of the L’Enfant Plaza fiasco and ensuing safety investigation, is temporary. The FTA will step aside once the new commission is formed. In the meantime, however, the acting administrator said her agency still is forming a safety team to conduct on-site inspections of Metro facilities.

“We are in active discussions with our folks and are close to bringing on new team members very soon,” McMIllan said in remarks to reporters.

The FTA is aiming for a staff of 25, including management and inspection personnel. It will contract with independent consultants as well as recruit safety experts from other divisions of the U.S. Department of Transportation, including the Federal Railroad Administration.

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