Feds promise daily DC Metro safety inspections

Greg Nash

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) is planning to conduct daily inspections of the Washington, D.C. Metrorail subway system as part of its take over of safety oversight of the capital area transit agency. 

The agency said Monday that it is boosting the frequency of inspections that have been conducted periodically since it took over oversight for the D.C. Metro system last October as the capital area transit agency marks the anniversary of the death of a passenger last year.

“Although FTA is fulfilling a critical safety oversight function, responsibility for performing the actual work of making Metrorail safer for passengers and employees rests squarely on WMATA,” FTA Acting Administrator Therese McMillan said in a statement.  

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“However, starting this week, FTA is moving from periodic to daily and unannounced inspections throughout Metrorail system," she continued. "In addition, FTA will soon close the first batch of accident investigation reports assumed from the TOC and expects to issue additional safety directives to WMATA during 2016 resulting in more corrective actions.”

Metro has been under fire for most of the year following the death of a passenger on a smoke-filled train in January 2015 and a series of other safety lapses last year, including the derailment of a non-revenue train that was preparing to enter passenger service.

The FTA began conducting safety inspections for the D.C. Metro system under new powers that were granted to the agency in a 2012 transportation funding bill in October. The decision made the capital area transit agency, which is the second busiest subway in the U.S., the first system in the nation to be placed under federal control. 

The agency said Monday it has seen some improvement in the D.C. Metro system since it took over oversight of the capital subway, but the FTA said it is not yet ready to declare mission accomplished. 

"With direct safety oversight of Metrorail, FTA has three primary goals: help WMATA improve its safety performance, ensure and verify that WMATA prioritizes and implements corrective actions, and assist local jurisdictions in speeding up creation of a new federally-required State Safety Oversight Agency to replace the TOC," the agency said. "While more work lies ahead, initial positive results are beginning to be seen." 

The D.C. Metro was previously overseen by a Tri-State Oversight Committee composed of officials from Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia. The FTA also had a limited role in overseeing Metro, but public transit has been seen as a local issue in most cases.

The FTA has already recommended a list of nearly 80 safety fixes for WMATA after its investigation of the January incident. Metro has committed to completing the fixes and said the FTA has signed off on its plan.