Md. lawmakers consider Metro safety commission

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Maryland lawmakers heard from state transit officials Thursday about a bill designed to improve safety on the rails at Metro.

Maryland’s H.B. 119 creates the Metrorail Safety Commission, a body made up of representatives from Maryland, D.C. and Virginia. The compact gives the commission authority over the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.

“This really provides teeth to an organization that can work with WMATA on safety issues, but very importantly, when we can’t get to the place where we need to be, it can compel WMATA to act,” said Kevin Reigrut, executive director of the Maryland Transportation Authority.

At the hearing on the compact before the Maryland House Environment and Transportation Committee, several lawmakers asked Reigrut about the possibility of tweaking the bill to provide for added local input.

Reigrut sounded a cautionary note, explaining to reporters later: “If a change is made to the bill, it goes back to D.C. and it goes back to Virginia, it puts the ultimate passage at risk, which means that standing up the Metrorail Safety Commission just takes even longer.”

The three jurisdictions must act in concert to pass the measure.

“It’s important to note that all rail facilities that do commuter rail throughout the country are responsible for the same obligation, but WMATA is ultimately different because of the tri-state compact and the governance structure that it operates under,” Reigrut told the panel.

Quincy Jones, executive board shop steward for the Amalgamated Transit Union, also testified at the committee hearing. Jones explained he represents 8,500 front-line WMATA employees, and he voiced concerns about the authority the commission would have regarding firing authority.

A provision in the bill, Jones said, states that the commission alone could recommend suspensions and disqualify an employee that it deems unfit. “The provision provides the commission with sweeping power without defining the criteria that they would use” to reach conclusions about a worker’s performance, Jones said.

Metro’s safety performance has become a federal, as well as local, concern. And that was underscored due to a number of safety failures on Metro, dating back to the fatal crash involving two Red Line cars near Fort Totten in 2009. The train’s operator and eight passengers were killed in that crash.

If enacted by all three jurisdictions, the bill would go into effect June 1.

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