Subway, Light-Rail Systems to Receive Federal Oversight

Following an increase of high-profile crashes, new legislation prompts transportation officials to draft federal safety standards.

by / October 9, 2012
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Following a measure approved by Congress this summer, federal officials from the Transportation Department are drafting safety standards to regulate subway and light-rail systems. Previously absent of federal oversight, subway and light-rail systems across the country will receive direction from the Federal Transit Administration and state monitoring agencies in an effort to promote safety, The Washington Post reported.

“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,” Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski said. “My promises made are promises kept. I will not rest until Metro is safe for those who work on it and those who ride on it.” Mikulski led the push for federal oversight along with Maryland Rep. Donna Edwards.

The new rules are expected to take several months to write and, at a minimum, will require transit agencies to develop strategies for identifying risks, designate a trained safety officer and have employee safety training programs.

What the exact cost of meeting the new regulations will be for cities is unclear, although several major cities have already begun upgrading their safety programs. Following the growing number of derailments over the past few years and most notably the 2009 Red Line crash that killed nine people, officials are taking safety more seriously.

“The law [previously] actually prohibited DOT and FTA from being involved in safety oversight,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said. The purpose of the new standards is to provide a federal model for cities to look at and establish recourse in the event standards are not met, but there are no plans for constant federal monitoring, LaHood said.