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WMATA Safety Management Inspection Report News Conference


Therese McMillan, Acting Administrator
 Federal Transit Administration

WMATA Safety Management Inspection
Tri-State Oversight Committee Audit
NTSB Response on Subway Tunnel Audits

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery


Good morning. I am Therese McMillan, the FTA Acting Administrator.

The Federal Transit Administration recently conducted a Safety Management Inspection of the Metrobus and Metrorail systems operated by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority – otherwise known as “WMATA.”

We’re here today to talk about the findings of that safety inspection.

The safety of transit riders and workers nationwide is the top priority of the FTA. Every transit passenger deserves a safe ride and every transit worker deserves a safe workplace.

Here in the nation’s capital, WMATA has experienced serious rail accidents over the past several years resulting in fatalities and injuries among both passengers and workers.

In spite of improvements made by WMATA since the 2009 Fort Totten accident, it continues to experience safety problems such as the January 12, 2015, incident of smoke in a tunnel near L’Enfant Plaza caused by electrical arcing.

With this background in mind, FTA announced in February 2015 that we would conduct a Safety Management Inspection, or “SMI”, of the WMATA rail and bus systems.

FTA is able to perform this type of safety oversight function because in 2012, Congress greatly expanded FTA’s safety authority in the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, also known as “MAP-21.”

The WMATA SMI is the first inspection FTA has conducted using our new safety authority. I thank my staff for their good work in conducting the inspection and producing a thorough report that is a template for how FTA will perform this type of safety activity moving forward.

SMI Report Findings

The SMI evaluated WMATA’s operations and maintenance programs, safety management capabilities, and organizational structures to determine whether it is complying with its own procedures and rules, existing federal regulations and FTA Safety Advisories to ensure the safety of its riders, employees and system infrastructure.

WMATA is not unsafe – but it has to do better to improve its safety performance for its passengers and workers.

Overall, WMATA has made progress in some areas during the past five years. However, organizational shortcomings and operational concerns continue to limit WMATA’s effectiveness in recognizing and resolving safety issues.

In key areas, WMATA is not effectively balancing safety-critical operations and maintenance activities with the demand for passenger service.

Perhaps most significantly, FTA found serious safety lapses in the Rail Operations Control Center that collectively impact the ability of Metrorail to schedule and conduct maintenance work, manage abnormal and emergency events, and ensure the safety of trains and personnel on the right-of-way.

The SMI report includes 54 safety findings: 44 for Metrorail and 10 for Metrobus. Overall, the safety issues with Metrorail are more serious, numerous and substantive than for Metrobus.

For Metrorail, some of the major categories of findings include:
•Inadequate Rail Operations Control Center Staffing and Procedures;
•Ineffective Training, Testing and Rules Compliance Programs; and
•Insufficient Track Time for Maintenance.

For Metrobus, major categories of findings include:
•Concern over Protection of Bus Operators and Personnel;
•Limited Availability of Training; and
•Inconsistent Operational Testing and Rules Compliance Checks.

Safety Directive / WMATA Board of Directors

WMATA has some serious safety issues it must correct.

To help WMATA do better, FTA is issuing a Safety Directive identifying required actions for each of the 54 safety findings. WMATA has 90 days to submit to FTA the specific actions it will take to address each finding. FTA will then meet monthly with WMATA to monitor and assess its progress.

I am also asking the WMATA Board of Directors to closely monitor the time and resources made available for Metrorail operations and maintenance departments to conduct safety critical inspection, testing, training, and repair activities.

Specifically, the WMATA Board needs to determine what changes to its Fiscal Year 2016 budget may be necessary to effectively implement the corrective actions.

Tri-State Oversight Committee Audit Findings

Concurrent with the WMATA safety management inspection, FTA also conducted an audit of the Tri-State Oversight Committee, or TOC. The TOC is the current partnership between Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia responsible for managing the federally required State Safety Oversight Program that provides daily safety oversight of the WMATA Metrorail service.

The TOC audit was previously scheduled to occur this year and is commonly performed on all State Safety Oversight Agencies which have jurisdiction over rail transit agencies.

There were 11 audit findings. The main emphasis is that the TOC partners need to coordinate and take action on several issues, including:
•Implement new legal and financial requirements for the stronger State Safety Oversight program as required by MAP-21;
•Complete grant funding requirements or risk losing more than $4.5 million available to fund its safety oversight responsibilities; and
•Prioritize efforts to transition to a new Metro Safety Commission that would provide greater safety oversight of Metrorail.

Subway Tunnel Audits / Safety Advisory

Finally, FTA also is announcing today action to address the safety of subway tunnels nationwide. This action is in response to an Urgent Recommendation issued to the FTA by the National Transportation Safety Board stemming from its investigation of the WMATA L’Enfant Plaza incident.

There are 25 rail transit agencies that utilize subway tunnels. FTA is directing State Safety Oversight Agencies with jurisdiction over these agencies to conduct audits to assess and inspect tunnel ventilation systems. The audits also will assess emergency procedures for fire and smoke events, related training and compliance programs, and application of industry best standards.

In addition, FTA is issuing a Safety Advisory to notify the transit agencies of these forthcoming audits by their State Safety Oversight Agency. After the State Safety Oversight Agencies complete and return the audits, FTA will analyze the data to determine potential future rulemaking and safety guidance to the rail transit industry.


Again: WMATA is not unsafe. I do not own a car and rely heavily on the Metro system to get around the area. I will continue to ride Metro trains and buses.

Today’s findings should not be interpreted as a reason for WMATA’s rail and bus passengers to seek other means of transportation. However, WMATA must do better to improve its safety performance for its passengers and workers.

FTA has identified safety issues that WMATA must address and correct. WMATA is responsible and accountable for achieving the needed safety improvements.

WMATA management and staff, the WMATA Board of Directors and the Tri-State Oversight Committee all must work together to fix what needs to be fixed. This work needs to begin today.

Thank you. I will now take questions.

Updated: Wednesday, March 16, 2016
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