A bipartisan coalition in the House of Representatives introduced a new amendment Oct. 20 to provide legislative approval of the Oct. 9 takeover of the Washington, D.C. Metro by Federal Transit Administration officials.
The “Protect Riders of Metrorail Public Transportation Act of 2015” would legally approve of U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx’s measures to take over the supervision of the D.C. Metro from the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. The National Transportation Safety Board requested that Foxx step in after it concluded that the current supervisor of Metro safety, the Tri-State Oversight Committee, is ineffective.
Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.) and Barbara Comstock (R-Va.) are among the bill’s sponsors.
A January electrical malfunction that filled a Yellow line with deadly smoke, sending 84 to the hospital and killing one, sparked these measures. Foxx officially took over the D.C. Metro, explaining why in a letter to National Transportation Safety Board President Christopher Hart on Oct. 9.
“Increased oversight means that FTA will now directly enforce and investigate the safety oversight of WMATA Metrorail,” Foxx wrote. “FTA has the capability to assert this authority and, at my direction, will do so immediately.”
Comstock explained to The Hill that the Metro’s failure to conduct safety inspections has been an outrage and necessitated the federal takeover. The PROMPT Act, Comstock hopes, will allow passengers to feel at ease when commuting to or visiting Washington, D.C.
“The safety failures and the unreliability of Metro threaten our commuters and constituents daily,” Comstock said. “This bipartisan legislation reinforces and expands the U.S. Department of Transportation’s authority to conduct much-needed and direct oversight of Metro.”
Norton explained that the main goal of the legislation is to ensure Metro rider safety following poor oversight by the Tri-State Oversight Committee.
“This action will help protect riders,” Norton said. “FTA has the experience and background to conduct federal oversight of rail, including performing random inspections.”
Norton explained that continued federal oversight will occur until the District of Columbia, Virginia and Maryland create a new safety board that conducts routine inspections and identifies any risks to passenger safety. The D.C. Department of Transportation will continue to handle everyday operations under federal supervision.
“[T]he District of Columbia, Virginia and Maryland [must] develop a state safety oversight agency certified by the DOT Secretary,” Norton said. “The PROMPT Act authorizes the Department of Transportation to administer state safety oversight activities for WMATA Metrorail until [then].”
A DDOT spokesperson declined to comment.
Norton referenced the 2012 Moving Ahead for Progress Act, which gives the DDOT direct safety oversight of transit rail, as legal precedent for the federal takeover. With the introduction of the PROMPT Act, the FTA will be able to take over full responsibility for the Metro.
“Neither D.C. nor virtually any states have had time to set up a safety agency for rail, because authority was only granted to the states in 2012,” Norton said. “The original grant envisions state oversight, or, if necessary, FTA oversight.”
The WMATA Riders’ Union spokesperson Graham Jenkins explained that federal oversight of the D.C. metro is an encouraging step in reducing safety hazards. Jenkins said that almost everyone can agree that such action is necessary.
“The WMATA Riders’ Union welcomed Secretary Foxx’s original announcement of the FTA takeover of Metrorail safety oversight,” Jenkins said. “We continue to hope that the jurisdictions and WMATA will work together to establish an effective state safety oversight agency.”
The Riders’ Union had its first public meeting Oct. 29, where it discussed the need for changes in order to alleviate rider fears.
“The FTA [may] serve as a more capable guardian of rider safety,” Jenkins said. “[But] bold, sweeping changes are needed across the entirety of WMATA, and this is but a small step.”