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Feds assume control of Metro safety regulations

After a series of Metro safety incidents, oversight of the rail system may soon be turned over to a federal agency. (WTOP/Max Smith)

WASHINGTON — With Metro facing tougher scrutiny than ever, the federal government has officially begun overseeing safety regulations across the rail system.

The Federal Transit Administration assumed control Monday, a move that U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced earlier this month.

In a statement, FTA Acting Administrator Therese McMillan called it the “strictest level of federal safety oversight ever placed on a rail transit agency.”

“Our goals are to improve Metrorail safety,” she added.

The FTA is assembling a team that it says will conduct on-the-ground inspections, force Metro to implement more than 200 safety improvements and work to close out more than 100 open accident investigation reports.

Currently, the agency does not have enough staff to conduct unannounced safety inspections, but it will bring in outside help from consultants and other agencies within the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The agency says it will ensure that federal subsidies are invested first and foremost in correcting safety deficiencies. Metro received $440 million in federal assistance in 2015.

“We recognize the urgency of setting the transit system of our nation’s capital in much better shape,” Foxx said in a statement.

“While we will work to direct Metro into a new era of safety, our actions do not remove the need for state and local leaders to govern and prove that they can successfully execute their charge to provide safe, reliable service.”

The FTA says its role is temporary while leaders in D.C., Maryland and Virginia work to set up a “fully functioning” agency to replace the current oversight body, known as the Tri-State Oversite Committee.

All three jurisdictions plan to introduce identical legislation next year to establish the Metro Safety Commission, which will comply with the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21) Act of 2012.

In his statement, Foxx also called for Metro to hire a new leader immediately. Former General Manager Richard Sarles announced in September 2014 that he would retire. He left the agency in January. Since then, Jack Requa has been the interim general manager.

U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, of Virginia, told WTOP Tuesday morning that Metro plans to hire a new general manager in seven to 10 days.

“He or she better be good because this is an organization in crisis, and this person is going to have to both come in with a turnaround mentality as well as to really drill down on safety concerns,” he said.

Sources tell WTOP that the Board of Directors is down to two finalists for the position.

An announcement could come when Metro meets again Nov. 5.

WTOP’s Ari Ashe contributed to this report

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