D.C. Metro GM says improved safety, reliability plan in place

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Washington, D.C., Metro General Manager Richard Sarles testified before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies of the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations May 19 and reiterated the transit agency's request for $150 million in fiscal year 2011. 

In doing so, Sarles provided a description of his back-to-basics action plan to improve the safety and service reliability of the Metro system. 

The audit that Senator
Barbara Mikulski asked the Federal Transit Administration to conduct "was
extremely helpful to us as we developed our safety action plan," Sarles told
the Subcommittee. "We are working on a number of fronts to strengthen our
safety program, including hiring more people and getting them the training that
they need. We are developing an incident management system so that we can
analyze trends and spot issues in advance. We are also improving protections
for our track workers, by updating our procedures and our training program for
those who work in and around the track area."


In response to Senator
Mikulski’s questions on improving safety at Metro, Sarles highlighted 10 key
safety-related concerns. They are: 

1. Replace the oldest railcars in the
fleet (Rohr 1000 Series railcars) 
2. Develop a new real-time automatic train control
redundancy system 
3. Strengthen the expertise of the Safety Department 
Complete the Roadway Worker Protection Program 
5. Develop a training and
certification program for bus and rail personnel 
6. Strengthen employee
knowledge of rules and rules compliance 
7. Develop an accident and
investigation database 
8. Create a strong internal training tracking database 
Fill vacancies in the Safety Department 
10. Improve the agency’s safety

Besides safety, Sarles
said that a cornerstone of Metro’s plan is to improve customer service
reliability, which is why the requested $150 million in federal funding is
critical to the system. He told the Subcommittee that the agency is focused on
delivering better on-time performance of all of its modes-Metrorail, Metrobus
and MetroAccess- but that the long-term reliability will depend on maintaining
the state of good repair of the system’s buses, trains, infrastructure and

Sarles pointed out that Metro is an aging system that requires
more investment for state of good repair than it did five, 10 or even 20 years

In response, Sarles said
that Metro is developing a program to address the state of good repair needs.

"Our state and local
partners are committed to increasing their contributions to Metro to meet these
state of good repair needs," Sarles testified. "But the funding that Metro has
requested from this Subcommittee is urgently needed to allow us to maintain the
Metro system in a state of good repair." 

Sarles was accompanied to
Capitol Hill by Metro Board Chairman Peter Benjamin, who also provided

In making the case as to
why the federal government should provide funding to Metro, Benjamin noted that
half of all Metrorail stations are located at federal facilities and about 40
percent of peak ridership consists of federal employees. In 2005, a "Blue
Ribbon" report found that the federal government, the region’s largest
employer, is the "largest single beneficiary" of Metro. 

For these reasons,
the federal government "is uniquely dependent upon Metro, something that
distinguishes Metro from other U.S. transit systems," Benjamin said in his
written testimony. "In fact, it is fair to say that Metro is the backbone of
daily federal government operations." 

Congress recognized the federal
government’s unique relationship with Metro when it passed the Passenger Rail
Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 ("PRIIA", P.L. 110-432), which
authorized $1.5 billion for Metro’s capital and preventive maintenance needs,
to be equally matched by Metro’s state and local funding partners. Congress
appropriated the first installment of that authorization last year.

"We are requesting that
another $150 million be appropriated in federal fiscal year 2011, as provided
for in the President’s FY2011 budget request," Benjamin said.

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