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Congresswoman Barbara Comstock

Representing the 10th District of Virginia

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Comstock Joins National Capital Region House Delegation Wanting Continuous Monitoring to Improve the Safety Culture at WMATA after Briefing with FTA Officials

June 16, 2015
Press Release

Washington, D.C. - At a briefing of the National Capital Region House Delegation, called by Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), ranking member of the Highways and Transit Subcommittee, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) alerted the delegation to significant safety concerns at the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) following its safety management inspection (SMI) of WMATA’s rail and bus transit systems.  FTA’s full SMI report will be released tomorrow, June 17, 2015.  FTA Acting Administrator Therese McMillan indicated at the briefing that FTA would recommend further critical and necessary measures to protect the safety of Metro riders.  FTA conducted a top-to-bottom inspection of WMATA’s safety operations following the January 12, 2015, fatal smoke incident in a tunnel near L’Enfant Plaza Metro Station.

Congress gave FTA new safety oversight authority over WMATA and other transit agencies for the first time in the MAP-21 surface transportation bill following the tragic 2009 Red Line crash that killed nine D.C.-area residents.  This was only the second comprehensive safety evaluation of WMATA conducted by FTA since the 2009 crash.  MAP-21 placed continuous oversight responsibilities on new state agencies called State Safety Oversight Agencies (SSOAs), but most states are still ramping up their SSOAs in order to come into compliance with MAP-21 safety and oversight requirements.

Congresswoman Barbara Comstock (R-VA) said, “Metro’s mismanagement and unacceptable safety record for its riders are deeply troubling.  I have thousands of constituents riding the rails every single day and they expect and rely on Metro to be safe.  The FTA’s safety inspection points out serious flaws with Metro that need to be corrected immediately. Metro must make safety its top priority moving forward, and we would welcome some new leadership in doing so.”

Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton said, “Although it takes time to create a new independent safety agency to continuously monitor Metro’s safety, today’s briefing pointed out the necessity for our Tri-State region to expedite the development of our State Safety Oversight Agency (SSOA).  Because legislative changes and new resources will be necessary, the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia will want to make haste so that the region is not left to investigate once an accident has occurred, but has continuous monitoring by its SSOA to discover and forestall risks like the tragic smoking incident at L’Enfant Plaza Station in January.”

Congressman Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD) said, “I am deeply disappointed with the findings of the Federal Transit Administration’s safety management inspection of Metro.  A safer, more reliable Metro system should be a priority to ensure it serves the thousands of commuters who ride it every day and the millions of visitors who come to visit our nation’s capital.  I strongly urge Metro leadership to review these safety recommendations and swiftly implement them.”

Congressman Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) said, “One week after the National Transportation Safety Board discovered systemic errors in installation of critical safety equipment, the FTA has highlighted key areas for improvement in WMATA’s organization and safety management program.  I am deeply concerned by FTA’s identification of systemic issues, including the need to strengthen safety training and proactively identify risk.  When FTA releases its report tomorrow, WMATA must respond immediately and offer a plan to address these issues with a clear timeline for completion.”

Congresswoman Donna Edwards (D-MD) said, “The 2009 Red-Line Metro collision that claimed the lives of nine people was a tragic reminder of the urgent need to establish federal safety standards.  Thousands of my constituents, and millions more across the country, rely on heavy rail transit systems to get to work safely.  Today’s briefing by the FTA on their audit recommendations is a reminder of how much remains to be done and is an urgent call for a cultural change at WMATA in regards to safety.  I look forward to working with my colleagues to ensure we hear the plans of Maryland, District of Columbia, and Virginia in developing and standing up our SSOA to make sure that we don’t have another deadly metro incident before these plans are fully implemented.”

Congressman Gerry Connolly (D-VA) said, “This FTA safety inspection confirms what many of us have feared, that Metro continues to lack a top-to-bottom culture of safety.  It’s time for the Metro Board to bring on new leadership to get the system back on track.  Restoring rider confidence in the system will require tougher oversight and new resources from all partners at the local, state, federal levels.  Sadly the FTA is just the latest oversight agency to cite concerns with Metro’s emergency management, training protocols, and maintenance backlog.  It’s long past time that Metro makes safety its top priority.”

Congressman John K. Delaney (D-MD) said, “My constituents deserve a transit system that is safe and reliable.  Metro is their way to work, their way home and something families depend upon.  The FTA report makes it clear that WMATA has a lot of work to do.  We saw in January what is at stake and WMATA needs to take constructive action as soon as possible.  This month the regional delegation has fought for more funding for WMATA, but safe and effective infrastructure requires both adequate funding and top-level management and we need to see immediate steps from WMATA so that safety will be improved.”

Congressman Don Beyer (D-VA) said, “The time to act is now.  Our delegation has fought time and again for the funds Metro needs to make safety changes: Now Metro needs to live up to their end of the bargain for the safety of our constituents. Today the FTA highlighted necessary safety improvements including track maintenance, training certifications and emergency communications. Let's get it done.”