Feds approve DC Metro safety plan

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has approved a "correction action plan" for the Washington, D.C., Metrorail subway system after a series of incidents that have raised questions about passenger safety. 

The plan lays out Metro's schedule for implementing a list of nearly 80 safety fixes that have been recommended by the FTA after a passenger was killed on a train that filled with smoke after it experienced electrical problems in January. 

The FTA said Thursday that the agency that operates the D.C. system should "provide unwavering focus and attention to effectively implement the plan and better provide the level of safety its passengers and workers deserve. 

“WMATA must demonstrate a renewed commitment to set a higher standard of safety for its riders and employees,” Transportation Secretary Anthony FoxxAnthony FoxxGreat Lakes senators seek boost for maritime system Feds create advisory panel for self-driving cars Safety agency falls behind in rulemaking for hazardous materials MORE said in a statement. “This plan is an opportunity for WMATA to make lasting changes and restore public confidence in its system.”

The fixes were identified by the FTA after regulators conducted a system-wide Safety Management Inspection of the capital-area transit agency, which is the second busiest subway system in the nation. 

The agency that operates the D.C. Metro system, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), has been under fire since the fatal January smoke incident. 

Investigators have said the problem with the train, which was heading toward Northern Virginia on Metro's Yellow Line, was caused by faulty insulator on the subway tracks that was generating too much heat, trapping passengers underground in smoke-filled cars.

The incident resulted in Metro’s first passenger fatality since a high-profile crash on the Red Line in 2009 that killed nine people and led to widespread changes at the capital-area transit agency.

Among the problems with Metro that were identified by the FTA after the January smoke incident are "serious safety lapses in the Rail Operations Control Center (ROCC) related to the training and certification of rail traffic controllers; the ROCC structure, organization and staffing; the availability of checklists, procedures, manuals," according to the safety management report. 

The agency also said "WMATA work crews do not have sufficient access to the rail ROW [right of way] to perform critical inspection, testing and maintenance activities." The report added that "for some of Metrorail’s more complicated technical systems, shared responsibilities for maintenance inspections and repairs, training, and operational testing are not always well managed, leaving one department’s top safety priorities unaddressed by another department with different focus areas and considerations." 

The FTA promised Thursday to "closely track and monitor WMATA’s implementation progress.

“It is critical that WMATA effectively implement its corrective action plan,” Acting FTA Administrator Therese McMillan said. “And on a broader scale, to truly manage its safety risk on an ongoing basis, WMATA must demonstrate strong and consistent leadership, combined with a strong safety culture throughout its organization.”