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Important steps taken to improve safety on Metrorail trains

Under a deadline established by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to create an oversight board or lose five percent of their current federal funding, the Maryland Senate unanimously approved a bill to establish Maryland’s role in the Washington Metrorail Safety Commission.

The Fort Totten collision of two Metrorail trains in June 2009 killed nine and injured dozens of passengers. The event placed a bright spotlight on the inadequacy of the Tri-State Oversight Committee (TOC). According to the FTA, the now-defunct group’s ineffective oversight exposed passengers to substantial risk of injury and death following a number of accidents, incidents and safety lapses.

Nearly a year later, Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia agreed that creation of a stronger and more effective program was needed. However, five years passed without any movement in establishing the new State Safety Oversight Program (SSOP). Meanwhile, serious safety incidents continued to occur. It took a takeover by the FTA in October 2015 for meaningful efforts to begin.

While the bill awaits approval from the Maryland House of Delegates, U.S. Rep. John Delaney introduced a separate bill that would propose additional reforms for the metro system. The Maryland Sixth District congressional representative also cited declines in safety, reliability and service combined with the needs for improvements.

Passage of those much-needed changes would increase the transit authority’s funding. However, if reforms are not met within 18 months, Congress could withdraw its consent to the three-jurisdiction compact.

Even though further action is needed, securing the safety of Metrorail passengers has taken an important first step.

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