Region’s Leaders Demand Metro Accountability

WMATA will not institute new protocols to address Ebola. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)
WMATA will not institute new protocols to address Ebola. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Posted June 18, 2015 at 7:30am

The Federal Transit Administration released a scathing report Wednesday detailing the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s safety and management failures, leading the region’s officeholders to demand accountability.  

“The FTA’s safety audit confirms my belief that WMATA is in need of a management restructuring and organizational turn-around,” District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser said in a statement. “I will continue to work with the District’s appointees to the Board of Directors and our regional partners to demand accountability.” The FTA’s report on WMATA spanned more than 100 pages and listed 78 corrective actions for Metrorail and 13 actions for Metrobus. Following a deadly incident in L’Enfant Metro station in January, the FTA conducted a detailed review of the second-busiest transit system in the country.  

“In key areas, WMATA’s organization is not effectively balancing safety-critical operations and maintenance activities with the demand for passenger service,” the report’s authors wrote.  

The issues ranged from ineffective training, problems with system-wide maintenance, inadequate tunnel ventilation, low staffing levels, poor quality radio communications in some areas, and no clear strategy for delivering emergency response training to “frontline personnel.”  

“Perhaps most significantly,” the authors wrote, “the FTA [analysis] found serious safety lapses in the Rail Operations Control Center (ROCC).” Issues with the ROCC pertained to training, organizational structure, quality of communications, and the ability to “visually display and monitor the status of the rail transit system.”  

Before the report was released, members of the national capital region delegation were briefed on the report, and the members of Congress warned that the report revealed security and management failures .  

The report comes as the same lawmakers are working to restore WMATA funding, which the House recently voted to cut by one-third . The Maryland and Virginia senators said at a press conference Tuesday that the report signified the need for full funding, and cutting funding hampers WMATA as it works to address the security failures. After the report was released, the area’s representatives furthered that argument.  

“The need to quickly implement FTA’s urgent safety directives should be the last word on pending cuts for capital safety improvements to WMATA,” Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., said in a statement. “In light of the report’s recommendations, cuts would recklessly under-cut Metro’s safety efforts in the coming months.”  

The delegation also emphasized the need for congressional oversight, with Senate Appropriations ranking member Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., saying Tuesday that WMATA would be kept on a “short leash.” Mikulski’s fellow Maryland Democrat, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, said Wednesday that “WMATA must answer to Congress about what changes it plans to make to protect riders.” Van Hollen is running for the seat of the retiring Mikulski.  

WMATA has 30 days to respond to the FTA’s report and 60 days to detail the actions it will take to remedy the situation. The FTA will conduct monthly meetings with WMATA as well.