After Washington DC’s tragic Metro rail crash in June – an accident that killed nine passengers and injured 80 people – the federal government is taking steps to oversee transit systems in a number of the country’s big cities including Washington. While the US government already oversees safety on planes, passenger trains, and highways, a 1965 law prevents them from overseeing subway systems and city transportation.
Currently, the country’s subway transit systems are overseen by state agencies, which are often very small committees that do very little to protect passengers from Metro accidents and injuries. In fact, in the last five years the number of people injured in light rail and subway accidents has tripled, while the average number of full-time employees in a state-run agency is one.
In the case of the District of Columbia, the Metro is run by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority and overseen by the elusive Tri-State Oversight Committee. Investigators into the deadly Metro accident have found that the transit authority did not let the Oversight committee inspect the tracks during operation.
Under the new system of regulation as proposed by the Obama administration and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, state agencies could still oversee their city’s transit system only if they proved that they were regulating and enforcing safety at an acceptable level. The Federal Transit Agency would grant funding to enforce rules and inspections and step in when necessary.