FTA outlines transition of WMATA safety oversight

Written by Mischa Wanek-Libman, editor
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Federal Transit Administration

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) is prepared to initiate the transfer safety oversight of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) Metrorail system to the Metrorail Safety Commission (MSC) following a few final steps required before the process can begin.

“FTA is ready to initiate the formal transition process and the MSC is nearing completion of the work it needs to do before the process can begin,” said FTA Executive Director Matthew J. Welbes.

The MSC is the designated State Safety Oversight (SSO) Agency established jointly by the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia to provide safety oversight of Metrorail. FTA assumed temporary and direct safety oversight of Metrorail in October 2015. The National Transportation Safety Board made the recommendation that direct safety oversight of WMATA move to the federal realm following its determination that the transit agency had made little progress in its safety oversight since a 2009 accident in Fort Totten that killed nine people.

FTA says the transition process involves three key steps. First, the MSC must submit its SSO Program certification application to FTA. Before MSC can submit its application, the MSC commissioners must approve the SSO Program and MSC must be adequately staffed to perform all safety oversight responsibilities. Certification of the SSO Program must be obtained by April 15, 2019. Should the deadline be missed, FTA would be prohibited by law from obligating a minimum of $638 million in FY 2019 federal transit funding to all transit providers across the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia until certification is achieved. Additionally, FTA would continue to withhold about $32 million in FY 2017 and FY 2018 federal transit funding for failure of the jurisdictions to meet a prior SSO Program certification deadline.

The second step occurs after FTA receives the MSC certification application and sends a letter of acknowledgement that the application is under review. Then, a transition period will begin during which FTA conducts a knowledge transfer to MSC, including technical sessions on all six core areas of safety oversight responsibilities and the status of each as it relates FTA’s safety oversight of Metrorail. The six core areas are: inspections, investigations, corrective action plans, emergency management, safety and security certifications, and triennial audits.

Also during this transition period, MSC staff will shadow FTA inspectors and investigators in the field to increase familiarity with the Metrorail system and better understand FTA’s activities related to safety oversight of Metrorail. Then, FTA staff will shadow MSC inspectors and investigators to validate that the MSC has the capacity to carry out its safety oversight responsibilities pursuant to federal transit law and its own SSO Program standard. The length of this transition period is not set and is highly dependent on factors such as MSC’s SSO Program standards, staffing and technical capacity.

The third and final step is FTA certification of the MSC SSO Program, which will occur only after FTA both approves the application and validates that MSC has the capacity to oversee WMATA Metrorail. When certification occurs, FTA will ensure an orderly transfer of safety oversight as MSC assumes the primary responsibility from FTA.

FTA explains that it is working to help MSC achieve certification and has a long history of providing review of draft SSO Program documents and other technical assistance relevant to safety oversight of Metrorail. In addition, in recent months, FTA has begun conducting pre-transition activities with the MSC, including briefings with its executive team and board members.

Categories: Commuter/Regional, OFF Track Maintenance, Safety/Training
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