Feds threaten to withhold DC Metro funding over safety

Feds threaten to withhold DC Metro funding over safety

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) is threatening to withhold funding for the Washington, D.C., Metrorail public transit system if local officials in the capital area do not set up a federally-mandated safety oversight panel within a year. 

The FTA took over safety oversight of the Metro last year in a high-profile rebuke of the local regulators of the agency, who had been criticized for being too lax on the nation's second-busiest transit system. 

Acting FTA Administrator Therese McMillan said in a letter to Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R), Virginia Gov. Terry McAulliffe (D) and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) that federal oversight of the beleaguered Metro system is only supposed to be temporary. 

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"The FTA will continue the safety oversight role only until the State of Maryland, the Commonwealth of Virginia, and the District of Columbia establish a State Safety Oversight Agency capable of carrying out a State Safety Oversight Program that is compliant with current federal law," she wrote. 

"Given FTA's determination that the [Tri-State Oversight Committee] is inadequate, the State of Maryland, the Commonwealth of Virginia, and the District of Columbia must receive FTA certification of a new State Safety Oversight Program — which includes creation of a new State Safety Oversight Agency compliant with Federal requirements — within one year from today's determination," McMillan continued.

"If the State of Maryland, the Commonwealth of Virginia, and the District of Columbia fail to do so by February 9, 2017, FTA is prepared to withhold 5307 formula funds and take other appropriate action, as set forth above," she concluded. 

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 the first system in the nation to be placed under federal control. 

The D.C. Metro system had been overseen by a Tri-State Oversight Committee composed of officials from Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia for most of its existence prior to the FTA take over. The FTA had a limited role in overseeing Metro, but public transit had been seen as a local issue in most cases.

The FTA has already recommended a lengthy list of 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.