AASHTO Journal

Trump Signs Measure Approving Capital-Area Subway Safety Commission

​President Trump on Aug. 22 signed into law a congressional resolution that clears the way for Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia to create a "Metrorail Safety Commission" to help regulate the capital area's often-troubled subway system.

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, known as Metro, operates subway and bus services in those three jurisdictions, and its rail system in recent years has suffered a series of accidents and operational breakdowns that at times left passengers or workers dead.

dollarpump.jpgIn 2015 the Federal Transit Administration directly assumed safety oversight responsibilities and began ordering actions including emergency infrastructure repairs, after determining the local jurisdictions' previous safety agency was ineffective, the Associated Press said.

It also said the controlling governments needed to create a new safety panel, but since February the federal government has withheld millions of dollars in Metrorail funding, the AP said, because it has taken so long to set up a permanent safety organization.

The three state and local governments first negotiated an interstate compact to create the Washington Metrorail Safety Commission, and give it full oversight authority "including, without limitation, the power to restrict, suspend, or prohibit rail service on all or part of the WMATA rail system," which is spelled out in the congressional resolution.

The Washington Post explained that the D.C. council passed legislation last year allowing for the new compact and commission, while Maryland and Virginia legislatures approved their measures earlier in 2017 before Congress gave its approval in July.

However, the Post said, "it will still be a while before the safety organization exists — the District, Maryland and Virginia are still looking for office space for the newly minted agency, they will need to find employees to staff that office, and they are seeking out at least six people with extensive rail and transit safety experience who can serve as commissioners. (Each jurisdiction is required to have two commissioners, along with an alternate.)"

Then there will have to be a formal process to transfer oversight authority from the FTA to the new commission, the Post said. Meanwhile, it is unclear when U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao might restore the withheld federal funding.

"Despite complaints from Congress, there is no indication that Chao has altered her vow to withhold that money until the Metro Safety Commission is federally certified and in full operation," the Post said.

Questions regarding this article may be directed to editor@aashtojournal.org.

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