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Letter to Chairmen Boxer and Johnson, Vice Chairman Mica and Ranking Member Shelby, Surface Transportation Conference Committee

Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) and the National Capital delegation today sent a letter to members of the Surface Transportation Conference Committee urging them to support the Senate's legislation to give the U.S. Secretary of Transportation the authority to establish and enforce federal safety standards for metro systems like the Washington Metro. Last week, two metro rail cars malfunctioned and opened while passengers traveled on the Red Line between the Van Ness and American University stations.

Senators Mark Warner (D-VA), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), along with U.S. Representatives Frank R. Wolf (R-VA), Gerald E. Connolly (D-VA), Jim Moran (D-VA), Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), and Donna F. Edwards (D-MA) also signed the letter.

"The doors of two rail cars opened while a Metro train was in service. These rail cars are from Metro's oldest fleet that withstood the most damage in the June 2009 deadly accident. Fortunately, no one was hurt," the delegation wrote. "This is why we strongly support the approach taken by the Senate to give the U.S. Secretary of Transportation the authority to establish and enforce federal safety standards. We want metro systems and SSO agencies to be held accountable to minimum safety standards. In addition, the Senate bill includes minimum safety performance standards for metro rail cars and requires the Secretary to take into consideration the recommendations of the NTSB."

The delegation also called for the continued support of dedicated federal funding for Metro safety established in 2008 which authorized $1.5 billion in federal funds over 10 years to help improve Metro's aging infrastructure and provide Metro's first dedicated, federal funding source.

The full text of the letter follows:

May 24, 2012

Dear Chairmen Boxer and Johnson, Vice Chairman Mica and Ranking Member Shelby:

As you begin conference negotiations on the surface transportation bill, we strongly urge you to adopt the transit safety standard provisions contained in the Senate-passed bill.

On June 22, 2009, nine people were killed and over fifty injured when two Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (Metro) trains collided during evening rush hour. It was the deadliest day in Metro's history.

After this tragedy, we learned federal safety standards for metro systems do not exist. Even though, we have standards for commercial buses, airplanes and commuter rail systems like Maryland Area Regional Commuter and Virginia Railway Express. We also learned that National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) had previously recommended that the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) establish these standards. However, the FTA has never taken action because it lacks the authority. This is when, as a regional delegation, we committed ourselves to passing legislation to give the U.S. Department of Transportation the authority it needs to protect the traveling public.

The subsequent investigations and audits of Metro by the NTSB and the FTA further supported our efforts. The NTSB found that the tragedy could have been prevented if the Metro board, management and workforce had a safety culture. The FTA found that Metro didn't have the manpower to implement its safety program. Both agencies found that our region's state safety oversight (SSO) agency, the Tri-State Oversight Committee, was not doing its job.

Once again last week, we were reminded of the need for these standards. The doors of two rail cars opened while a Metro train was in service. These rail cars are from Metro's oldest fleet that withstood the most damage in the June 2009 deadly accident. Fortunately, no one was hurt.

This is why we strongly support the approach taken by the Senate to give the U.S. Secretary of Transportation (Secretary) the authority to establish and enforce federal safety standards. We want metro systems and SSO agencies to be held accountable to minimum safety standards. In addition, the Senate bill includes minimum safety performance standards for metro rail cars and requires the Secretary to take into consideration the recommendations of the NTSB.

Thank you for your consideration of our request. We look forward to working with you to prevent another deadly tragedy and life-threatening incident on Metro and similar systems across the nation.

Sincerely,


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