Governors, mayor address Metro safety

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Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C., leaders want more oversight on safety on the Washington Metro Rail System.

Gov. Bob McDonnell, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and Washington, D.C. mayor Adrian Fenty agreed to work together to improve transit safety and address problems of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) and its state safety oversight agency, the Tri-State Oversight Committee (TOC). 

Both groups have been under scrutiny following accidents that have plagued the Metro rail. A June 2009 crash killed nine and injured 80 passengers when one train crashed into another that was stopped. Metro’s automatic-crash avoidance system failed.

Metro leaders have faced tough questioning from Congress, which is considering creating federal oversight of regional transit systems. In addition, the TOC has until May to respond to a Federal Transportation Administration Audit, which slammed Metro’s safety measures. The audit made 21 recommendations, but the FTA does not have oversight of Metro.

“Our regional transit safety plan will strengthen the oversight of Metro by putting in place a program capable of meeting, or even exceeding, proposed requirements in the federal legislation and addressing the FTA Audit,” McDonnell said in a statement. “Citizens and employers from Vienna to Bethesda to Capitol Hill count on a safe and dependable Metro system.”

The jurisdictions created a two-phase plan to give them more oversight, but it is unclear exactly how they would achieve more power over WMATA, which is governed by a 40-year, interstate compact.

Under phase one of the plan, the jurisdictions will create an enhanced Interim Tri-State Oversight Committee Policy Committee and provide its chairman with additional executive authority to implement monthly reviews and reporting requirements.

Under the plans second phase, the jurisdictions would create one of two safety oversight programs. They would either create a transportation safety oversight commission — the Metro Safety Commission — or let the federal government provide safety oversight of the systems.

The joint statement said they would make a decision on which commission to use after passage of future federal legislation, regulations, a presidential executive order, or a WMATA board decision.

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