Secretary of Transportation, Anthony Foxx, announced on Friday that the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), would assume safety oversight authority over Washington's Metro rail operations (i.e. the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority - WMATA). Foxx's announcement was addressed to NTSB Chair Christopher Hart, whose agency had recommended USDOT's Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) assume oversight of Metro's transit rail/subway operations. Foxx's letter to the NTSB explaining the FTA, not FRA, would assume direct safety oversight of Metro, is attached here.
The NSTB's "Urgent Safety Recommendations" R-15-31 and R-15-32, which recommended FRA safety oversight, are also attached.
Until this breaking announcement, responsibility for safety oversight of Metro's operations was held by the Tri-State Oversight Committee (TOC), a "State Oversight Agency" established under 49 CFR 659, whereby transit rail safety oversight is devolved from the FTA to state oversight organizations. Like the WMATA itself, which is a tri-partite compact of the governments of the District of Columbia, Maryland & Virginia, the TOC is comprised of representatives from those jurisdictions, and collectively charged with overseeing Metro's rail transit system.
Following recent mishaps, including a January 2015 tunnel fire which caused one fatality, both Metro's safety practices and the TOC were audited by the FTA. Calling the current TOC "ineffective" and lacking the "technical capacity and enforcement authority to provide the level of oversight that is needed," Foxx nonetheless concluded the federal FTA had the capability and authority to assume safety oversight for Metro, rather than the FRA. FTA now takes over direct oversight of Metrorail, which includes the ability to address safety deficiencies, and require WMATA to correct safety deficiencies and address an existing Corrective Action Plan between Metro and FTA.
According to Foxx's letter, the direct FTA safety oversight of Metrorail will exist until a more effective and "fully capable" State Safety Oversight organization (than the current TOC) is established by DC, Maryland & Virginia.