ANNAPOLIS — Maryland lawmakers discussed a bill Thursday to create a commission to improve Metrorail safety, which needs to be done swiftly in order to get back nearly $9 million in federal funding.
The Federal Transit Administration announced Friday the money from fiscal 2017 for Maryland, D.C. and Virginia will be withheld until each jurisdiction approves a safety program for Metro and a group to oversee Metrorail operations.
The legislation, labeled House Bill 285, reviews the makeup of the two Maryland representatives and calls for an alternate on a Washington Metrorail Safety Commission to come from either Prince George’s or Montgomery counties.
A companion document — House Bill 119 — states a total of six commissioners will make up the board with two from each jurisdiction approved by the D.C. mayor and governors from Maryland and Virginia.
Although the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 approves of the bill, spokesman David Stephen testified before the state’s Environment and Transportation Committee there should be an amendment.
“Both voting members from Maryland that are appointed by the governor be residents of Prince George’s and Montgomery [counties],” he said. “We believe that each county should be represented equally at all times.”
Delegate Marc Korman of Montgomery County, the lead sponsor of the legislation, said a companion bill in the Senate passed with the legislation that only requires one person reside in Prince George’s or Montgomery counties. The Senate passed its version hours earlier before Thursday’s hearing in the House.
Delegate Stephen Lafferty of Baltimore County said residents from Anne Arundel, Frederick and Howard counties mostly use the MARC train system, but are familiar with the Metro system and could possibly serve on the six-member safety commission.
Korman said only 5 percent of the Metrorail ridership in Maryland are commuters who reside outside Prince George’s and Montgomery counties.
Lawmakers in the House held a hearing Feb. 9 on House Bill 119 that looks to create a Metrorail commission and manage the transit agency.
A description of the bill highlights each commission member and an alternate must have backgrounds in transportation, transit, safety, public finance, or engineering.
Terms are fluctuated with a person serving either a two- or four-year term. An alternate would serve for three years. Each person would receive a $200 per diem “for each day spent on the business of the commission.”
Some of their duties:
• Implement relevant federal and state laws and regulations to the safety of the Metrorail system;
• Conduct inspections, examinations and testing of the property, electronic information and other equipment of the Metrorail system; and
• Prepare and publish an annual safety report of the Metrorail system.
One of the bill’s provision opposed by the union would allow the commission to direct Metro officials to suspend or disqualify an employee who may have violated safety regulations.
The union disagrees because the legislation doesn’t explain the criteria used to analyze any alleged infraction and “takes away an employee’s right to due process,” Quincey Jones, an executive board shop steward with Local 689, said at a hearing.
A program to improve safety began after the 2009 Fort Totten collision of two trains that resulted in nine deaths and dozens of injuries.
The FTA oversight was temporary until the three jurisdictions all approved similar legislation. Once it’s done and the administration agrees to certify each safety program, the withheld funds will be released.