House to Tackle Transit Safety Gaps in December Hearing

The debate over setting national standards for transit safety -- which the federal government has yet to do -- will take center stage at a December 8 hearing of the House transportation committee's transit panel.

PH2009110818163.jpgThe D.C. Metro (Photo: WaPo)

The lack of nationwide rules for transit safety has become an acute concern in Washington D.C. In a series on the local Metro rail system, the Washington Post has examined the powerlessness of the Tri-State Oversight Committee, the state-level board charged with monitoring safety for riders and workers.

The latest installment came earlier this week, when the Post reported that Metro had blocked Tri-State members from inspecting tracks during normal service hours, even when escorted by employees of the train network.

Federal Transit Administration (FTA) chief Peter Rogoff told Congress in August that his agency was working on regulations that would provide a national floor for transit safety, and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) at its annual meeting last month that he had tapped a U.S. DOT team to examine safety reforms.

The witness list for the House's December 8 hearing has not yet been released, but the U.S. DOT is likely to field tough questions from lawmakers about how soon it can finish those federal safety rules. Legislation mandating that LaHood set those standards has the support of most House members from the D.C. metro area, and Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) is a strong backer in the Senate.

One interesting question will be how APTA, which represents transit agencies' interests in Washington, addresses the coming federal presence in transit safety oversight.

An APTA spokesman told Streetsblog Capitol Hill in August that the group "has not yet taken a position on whether or not the FTA should have regulatory oversight." The group has not yet returned a request for comment on any change in its stance over the past three months.