Metrorail Safety Commission hires leader, hopes to be ready by September

David Mayer has been offered the job as executive director of the Metrorail Safety Commission. (Courtesy Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments)

WASHINGTON — David Mayer on Tuesday was officially offered the position of chief executive officer of the Metrorail Safety Commission, a critical step in the region’s efforts to take back control of Metro safety oversight.

Mayer, the chief safety officer of the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the former chief operating officer of the National Transportation Safety Board, will accept the offer, Metro Safety Commission Chairman Christopher Hart said. Mayer was selected from among four finalists after a review of about 20 candidates.

While the contract still must be signed, Mayer will be paid $230,000 per year, plus a $30,000 bonus next year as long as the commission’s safety oversight is certified by the Federal Transit Administration by April. With benefits, his total compensation will be over $300,000.

Mayer, who spent more than 20 years in various roles at the NTSB, is expected to start June 4.

“Given my previous work at the NTSB and as a former resident of the Washington region and longtime Metrorail commuter, I am very familiar with Metro and understand the importance of ensuring a safe transit system,” Mayer said in a statement distributed at Tuesday’s meeting.

Mayer has been involved in NTSB investigations of Metro incidents in the past, including the 2009 Red Line crash near Fort Totten.

A number of former New York subway officials now work in senior management at Metro, including Chief Safety Officer Pat Lavin and Chief Operating Officer Joe Leader.

The commissioners plan for an equivalent to 13 additional full-time positions through at least three additional expert hires by the end of summer who would focus on tracks, signals and oversight. Other positions could be filled by contractors to help get inspections started as soon as possible.

The annual budget with the current staffing plan would be around $4.4 million.

The commission will finalize the outlines of expected benefit levels for other employees for paid time off, health insurance, transit benefits and 401(k) contributions in coming weeks.

FTA oversight since 2015

The Federal Transit Administration took over Metrorail safety oversight in late 2015, after finding that the previous regional oversight organization had not been able to be tough enough on Metro.

The Metrorail Safety Commission, established this year after years of promises, can require money be spent on specific safety issues and even, in the most serious circumstances, order service be stopped.

The commission is aiming to meet all requirements for a federally-mandated state safety oversight organization by the end of September, which would give the FTA about six months to approve the application and transfer safety responsibilities ahead of a nationwide deadline in April 2019.

“We are going to move this needle, and we are going to move it in time,” Hart said.

The U.S. Department of Transportation set an earlier deadline for the Washington region, and has already been withholding money from Maryland, Virginia and D.C. until the safety commission is certified.

The commission expects to have its own website set up within the next few weeks, and is in the process of setting up its office space in a building near Union Station.

Commissioners also backed plans Tuesday afternoon for parts of the organization’s insurance coverage, including for safety commission inspectors who will be on the tracks checking the status of the Metro system.

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