As we recently blogged, Metro’s rail system is currently overseen by the Federal Transit Administration (“FTA”), an agency within the U.S. Department of Transportation (“DOT”). To fix Metro’s endemic safety problems on its rail system, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended that Metro’s rail system be reclassified under federal law as a railroad, so that oversight power would transfer from the FTA to the Federal Railroad Administration.
Days later, on October 9, the Secretary of the DOT instead chose a more conservative approach. The Secretary, Anthony Foxx, decided that transferring oversight away from the FTA would create bureaucratic confusion and slow down efforts to improve safety. Instead, Secretary Foxx has adopted a more conservative proposal, that will add greater oversight power to the FTA. In effect, safety on Metro’s rail system is now a federal responsibility, enforced by the FTA. Day-to-day operations will remain a Metro responsibility, but the FTA will be able to conduct surprise inspections and issue directives to Metro to immediately address safety problems in the rail system.
This is not as radical a plan as the National Transportation Safety Board’s proposal, but hopefully greater federal control will save Metro riders from the dysfunction of the current system – and prevent future injuries and deaths. In any event, of course, lawsuits and the judicial system will remain an important tool to ensure that Metro is held accountable for accidents, and has an incentive to avoid them.