The Federal Transit Administration announced Friday it will withhold funding from Metro after officials in the Washington, D.C., area missed the previous day’s deadline to submit a safety program to improve the transit agency.
The 5 percent funding formula for Maryland, the District and Virginia equates to $8.9 million for fiscal 2017. The administration said officials from those jurisdictions were notified Wednesday this would occur if a State Safety Oversight Program wasn’t approved.
“By law, states have the primary responsibility for overseeing the safe operation of their rail transit systems, not only for riders but for transit operators and workers,” FTA Executive Director Matthew Welbes said in a statement. “FTA has been providing oversight for … Metrorail since October 2015, but the role is temporary. We will continue to direct safety oversight of Metrorail only until the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia step up and establish an FTA-certified State Safety Oversight Program.”
A program to improve safety began after the 2009 Fort Totten collision of two trains that resulted in nine deaths and dozens of injuries.
“Since April 2010, the three jurisdictions have recognized the need for the creation of a new, stronger and more effective oversight program for Metrorail, but nearly seven years later it has not been established,” the FTA statement read.
The federal oversight is in effect until the three jurisdictions all approve similar legislation. Once the administration agrees to certify each safety program, the money will be released.
The District introduced legislation last year and currently awaits a response from the mayor, according to a timeline at http://bit.ly/2l2UIWD.
Maryland and Virginia legislatures continue to work on crafting similar legislation.
The Maryland General Assembly held a hearing Thursday in Annapolis on House Bill 119, which proposes to create a Metrorail Safety Commission that would have six people — two from each jurisdiction — to oversee the agency’s rail operations.
Quincey Jones, executive board shop steward for the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, expressed concern during recent testimony about the legislation authorizing the commission to suspend or disqualify an employee and safety training without specifying the union’s role in such proceedings.
“We are calling on all three jurisdictions to fix their bills, in an identical fashion, and with all deliberate speed,” Local 689 spokesman David Stephen said in a statement. “Our union stands ready to assist in any way that we can to make that happen.”
Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland) also expressed dismay over the feds’ decision.
“The safety of Metro is of paramount concern, but it is unfortunate that the FTA has decided to punish the entirety of these jurisdictions,” he said in a statement issued Friday. “I strongly encourage [each jurisdiction] to pass legislation to enact the new State Safety Oversight Program as quickly as possible, so that these funds are once again available to the National Capital region.”