Feds Looking at Subway Safety Standards

Article excerpt

Byline: Lori Aratani The Washington Post

WASHINGTON -- Federal officials have begun drafting safety standards for the nation's subway and light-rail systems, three years after a deadly crash on a line operated by the Washington Area Metropolitan Transit Authority exposed vast gaps in oversight of trains that transport millions of people a day.

The Transportation Department has long regulated safety for airlines and Amtrak, but it had no authority to impose safety standards for subway and light-rail systems. The result, federal officials said, was a patchwork of rules and regulations covering systems from San Francisco to Washington.

Now, the U.S. government is carving out a bigger role in the safety of such systems. In the summer, Congress approved a measure expanding the authority of the Federal Transit Administration and strengthening the role of state monitoring agencies.

"These first-ever federal safety standards will ensure we can bring the full force of our national transit expertise to help promote a culture of safety on our nation's rail-transit systems," said Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat, who led the push for federal oversight along with Rep. Donna F. Edwards, a Maryland Democrat.

"My promises made are promises kept," Mikulski said. "I will not rest until Metro is safe for those who work on it and those who ride on it."

Federal officials met last month in the District of Columbia to discuss the new rules, which will take several months to write. At a minimum, transit agencies will be required to have strategies for identifying safety risks, to employ a trained safety officer who reports directly to the head of the transit agency and to have training programs for employees responsible for safety. State agencies will be required to meet new standards and to be certified by federal officials.

The push for federal oversight was prompted in part by the growing number of derailments, collisions and worker fatalities on subways -- notably the 2009 crash on the Washington transit agency's Red Line that killed nine people and injured more than 80 others.

Federal officials expressed frustration that a 1965 law prohibiting federal regulation of subways was preventing them from taking necessary steps to ensure public safety.

"The law actually prohibited DOT and FTA from being involved in safety oversight," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said. …