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New Metro safety commission said to be on the way — again

Metro is now launching a peer review to compare things like smoke and fire issues and the power system against other transit agencies across the country. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

WASHINGTON — After years of delays, and thanks to pressure from the federal government, Virginia, Maryland and D.C. may be ready — finally — to revamp the organization that oversees Metro’s safety.

For years, the three jurisdictions have said they would comply with new federal transit rules by creating a truly independent state safety oversight agency.

Virginia Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne says he now expects that to happen after a series of meetings with federal transportation officials and colleagues in Maryland and the District.

“We’ve been working with Maryland and D.C. about having this [agency] be funded, and be a standalone with actually some teeth in it,” Layne says in an interview. “So the three jurisdictions will be working this year on what legislation we would need in our state to get that going.”

He says all three jurisdictions are committed to the funding.

Asked what has changed to lead to the new commitment, Layne says increased oversight from the federal Department of Transportation — including extra financial controls on Metro — have kicked the states and District into high gear.

A federal audit found major problems with the current Tri-State Oversight Committee, some of which are caused by the bureaucratic delays involved with reporting to three separate jurisdictions.

The new Metro Safety Commission was proposed in 2010, and the Federal Transit Administration told the region in 2013 that it was required. The transition must be completed if the region wants to receive $4.5 million in federal grants.

Layne says there have been meetings with the Federal Transit Administration and other DOT leaders.

On Wednesday, board chair Mort Downey sent a letter to Layne, Maryland’s transportation secretary and the District Department of Transportation’s director responding to concerns following the deadly January smoke incident on the Yellow Line near L’Enfant Plaza.

Downey says Metro has made great progress in resolving financial problems and will have responses prepared by July 17 to address issues found by an FTA Safety Management Inspection. The board will include candidates in the search for a new general manager who have financial management or other experience outside of government or transit.

Layne says he’s just glad the search for a new general manager is finally underway again. He expects to get a time frame of when a new general manager will be in place.

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