Even with new safety commission, risky Metro workers could remain at the agency

ARLINGTON, Va. — A new Metro Safety Commission would be able to direct Metro to move workers out of certain safety positions, but the employees could remain on the job elsewhere at Metro, Virginia leaders said Wednesday.

The safety commission “can’t direct them to fire somebody, and can’t direct them to take action that would be adverse to their collective bargaining rights, but can direct them to simply move them out of a safety sensitive position,” Del. Greg Habeeb, R-Salem, said at a meeting Wednesday of the Joint Commission on Transportation Accountability.

The independent safety commission would have other enforcement powers as will be required by federal law, from fines and safety direction up to ordering stretches of track shut down.

Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation Director Jennifer Mitchell said that fines could be tricky, given that the money ultimately comes from the local governments.

“This group will not be making any recommendations about ‘you need to increase WMATA’s budget in order to do this,'” she said. “It’ll just be saying, ‘We do not see this in your top five priorities, and we need to see you put it in your top five priorities and budget for it this year.'”

D.C. Council member and Metro Board Chairman Jack Evans spoke to the commission and other Virginia General Assembly members at the meeting in Crystal City, asking them to provide more money for the Metro system and explaining the problems the system faces today.

But Habeeb, a Republican from the Roanoke area, said that after his involvement in drafting the complicated Metro Safety Committee legislation, he is not particularly interested.

“It think we all agree that safety on Metro is important. I think we all agree that transparency’s important. I think we all agree that we don’t want to spend another nickel on Metro that we don’t have to spend on Metro,” Habeeb said.

The D.C. Council expects to take up in December the legislation creating the safety committee. The Maryland and Virginia General Assemblies plan to consider the legislation this winter.

Exemplifying the political and regional divides over the issue, Del. Vivian Watts, D-Annandale, said she worries that limiting funding could limit big progress.

“I want to make sure that the ongoing maintenance is not crisis management,” she said.

Evans said he understands concerns some lawmakers have about giving Metro more money right now, but said it is needed to help fill deep unfunded holes and turn things around

“How does a train jump the tracks in Falls Church?” he said, referring to a July 30 derailment on the Silver Line. “I mean how does that happen? I mean you and I could walk down the tracks and go, ‘Wow, those tracks look a little wide there.’ I mean they’re supposed to be looking at these things once a week, right? Nobody looked at them in six months. I mean how does that happen?

In his role on the D.C. Council, Evans said he hopes to remove alternate board members from the Metro Safety Commission setup before the bill is finalized in December. In part, he blames the large number of alternates on the Metro board of directors for making some parts of the governance structure unwieldy.

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