July 16, 2012

Federal leaders highlight new transit safety authority

U.S. Transportation Deputy Secretary John Porcari and Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff joined Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski and top safety and transit officials to celebrate a legislative victory that will ensure that transit passengers in the United States who board a light rail, commuter rail, heavy rail or transit bus will travel on a system governed by robust federal safety oversight for the first time.

The new safety regulatory authority in MAP-21(Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century), the new two-year transportation authorization signed into law by President Obama on July 6, is the culmination of a concerted effort by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) that began in December 2009, when Secretary LaHood formally transmitted to Congress a legislative proposal to establish and enforce minimum federal safety standards for rail transit systems. Many of the safety provisions included in MAP-21, which take effect on October 1, 2012, are reflected in the Administration’s proposal.

“This is an important win for the safety of tens of millions of Americans who use transit each day and for the well-being of transit workers on the front lines as conductors and track inspectors,” said Rogoff. “I’m deeply gratified that for the first time, we are ushering in an era where in every state and transit agency safety will be a real priority.”

MAP-21 requires, among other things, that FTA define and establish a State Safety Oversight program to ensure that rail transit systems are meeting stringent safety requirements. The law also includes important new safety provisions for bus-only operators. FTA will implement the new law in consultation with the transit community and the U.S. DOT Transit Rail Advisory Committee for Safety, which has been working since September of 2010 to help guide this effort.

Under current law, FTA, which finances nearly half of the capital expenditures for transit systems nationwide, is not authorized to issue basic safety standards to protect rail transit passengers and rail workers. The result is a patchwork of state laws that do not provide seamless or consistent safety coverage. For instance, a passenger can board a MARC commuter train in Maryland that is subject to safety regulations imposed by the Federal Railroad Administration and then transfer directly to the Washington, D.C. Metrorail, which is not subject to direct federal safety regulation or oversight. The transit safety provisions in MAP-21 will help to remedy these long-standing shortcomings.

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