The U.S. Department of Transportation’s investigative section launched an audit to determine if the Federal Transit Administration has the tools and personnel to carry out its new role overseeing the safety of Washington D.C. area Metro’s rail operations.
Previously, a 2012 audit looked broadly at the issues the agency would face if given responsibility for overseeing the safety of all the nation’s subway and light-rail systems through a network of state safety oversight agencies (SSO). Since the FTA has now assumed direct responsibility for the safety of Metro’s rail system, the U.S. inspector general has determined, as a matter of oversight, that a new review is warranted.
The audit is expected to take about a year, and the inspector general’s office has declined further comment on the decision until the process has been completed.
“The Federal Transit Administration welcomes the U.S. Department of Transportation Inspector General’s audit of our actions to assume and relinquish direct safety oversight of a transit agency,” an FTA spokesman said. “The FTA took immediate steps to implement our new responsibilities and has accomplished much in the past two months.”
The FTA’s assumption of Metro ops is a industry first.
According to the Washington Post, ensuring Metro is safe for passengers has taken on new urgency since a series of incidents that began in January with a smoke calamity at L’Enfant Plaza that killed one passenger and sickened scores of others. The lack of effective safeguards in the system was further highlighted in June when an FTA inspection identified numerous safety lapses, including a lack of adequate training for workers. And in August, an investigation into the derailment of an empty Green Line train found that Metro officials had known for a month that a stretch of track was defective but failed to fix it.
In an “urgent” recommendation issued in September, the National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating the January smoke incident, recommended that Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx shift oversight of Metro to the Federal Railroad Administration, an agency with experience overseeing the safety of heavy-rail systems such as Amtrak. But Foxx maintained that oversight of the nation’s second-busiest subway system was better left to the FTA. The secretary promised a robust program that would include surprise inspections, accountability and an aggressive push to resolve safety concerns quickly.