By: Allan M. Siegel
Accidents on Metro’s rail system are nothing new. To take a few recent
examples, on January 12, 2015, a yellow line train became stuck in a tunnel,
and flooded with smoke. Dozens of people became ill, and one woman died.
On August 6 of this year, a train derailed between the Federal Triangle
and Smithsonian stations. And, on September 21, an electrical failure
brought a Green Line train to a halt near the Georgia Avenue-Petworth
station, forcing firefighters to evacuate more than 200 passengers.
Given Metro’s track record, the National Transportation Safety Board
(“NTSB”) has been investigating Metro to determine how to
improve the safety of the rail system. The NTSB is an independent government
agency that investigates civil transportation accidents. Recently, on
September 30, the NTSB issued a report recommending that the U.S. Department
of Transportation (“DOT”) reclassify Metro’s rail system
as a commuter railroad. This is an innovative approach, because no other
urban subway is classified as a railroad.
What would be the impact? Currently, Metro is subject to only lax federal
oversight from an agency within the DOT, called the Federal Transit Administration.
But that oversight is largely toothless. On the other hand, if Metro is
classified by the DOT as a railroad, then Metro’s rail system will
come under the oversight of the Federal Railroad Administration, which
has dozens of inspectors and the ability to impose fines for safety violations.
Unfortunately, repeated preventable
accidents on the Metro railway are proving that the agency is failing to protect commuters in
the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia. We hope that the DOT
takes some action to improve oversight on Metro’s rail system, because
Metro itself is proving itself unable to improve the situation alone.
In the meantime, of course, one way to give Metro the incentive to keep
its riders safe, is to hold it accountable in courts of law when Metro
fails. If you or anyone you know has been injured in a Metro accident,
you should contact the personal injury attorneys at Chaikin, Sherman,
Cammarata & Siegel, P.C., for a