U.S. Secretary of Transportation transfers Metro safety oversight to FTA

WASHINGTON — The United States Secretary of Transportation on Friday transferred Metro’s safety oversight to the Federal Transit Administration following several safety lapses including the deadly smoke incident at the L’Enfant Plaza Metro station in January.

Secretary Anthony Foxx is not taking the National Transportation Safety Board’s recommendation to improve Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority safety by shifting oversight to the Federal Railroad Administration from the Tri-State Oversight Committee. Instead, Foxx is putting Meto under oversight of the FTA, which is part of the Department of Transportation.

“This increased oversight means that FTA will now directly enforce and investigate the safety oversight of WMATA Metrorail until the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia…” Foxx writes in the letter.

Under the new regulations, the FTA will perform unannounced facility inspections and address safety deficiencies. Also, the FTA will provide a “robust level” of funding to carry out the enhanced oversight.

The FTA has had some limited oversight of WMATA in the past, but this now gives them direct oversight.

Metro will stay in charge of its day-to-day operations.

Foxx says the FTA will maintain its role until he says a capable safety oversight agency is set up to replace the Tri-State Oversight Committee.

Also, Foxx is charging WMATA with hiring a capable general manager as soon as possible. He says the transit agency needs a general manager who is “able to correct the course” and “aggressively manage the implementation of the Corrective Action Plan, which has been approved by the FTA.”

“The urgency of having accountable leadership at the helm of WMATA cannot be overstated,” says Foxx in the letter.

The move comes after Metro’s fatal accidents at Fort Totten in 2009 and L’Enfant Plaza in January. Then there was the derailment in August that caused major delays, and the transformer fire on Sept. 21 at Stadium-Armory.

On Thursday, Metro Interim General Jack Requa told reporters that the agency has hit a low point and it must begin to head in the right direction.

“We’ve obviously had our troubles in providing reliable service. I think people think about that when they know they have to go from point A to point B and they need to be there at a specific time,” Requa says.

U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., says that he is looking forward to learning more about Foxx’s plan, but remains concerned that “immediate, effective oversight not be victim to bureaucracy.”

“The safety of the system must be our primary focus,” Connolly said in a statement Friday evening. “Metro needs robust safety oversight today. And to perform that oversight, we need an agency with the team and the regulatory tools to do the job today.”

Connolly echoed Foxx’s priority of a new general manager.

“Frankly, that is the single best thing that can be done right now to ensure the safe and reliable operation of the Metro system,” Connolly said of the need for a new general manager.

Read the letter secretary Foxx released Friday evening:

Federal Transit Administration now has Metro oversight

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