In the wake of several serious rail accidents, Congress enacted tougher safety oversight requirements of states, with threats of withholding federal funds for both rail and bus transit agencies throughout each entire state that did not comply. Thus, even transit operations with good safety records stand to lose if your state hasn’t gotten its act together. Is yours ready?
New law imposes state deadlines
Back in 2012, in the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), Congress required the FTA to update its State Safety Oversight (SSO) program. The FTA SSO program is designed to ensure that each state has a rail safety plan and a sufficiently fleshed-out program in place that can make sure each rail transit systems meets all of the safety requirements. The law also included important new safety provisions for bus-only operators. Prior to MAP-21, the FTA was actually prohibited from interfering with state oversight bodies and only allowed to investigate safety concerns and recommend corrective actions. The new changes now require all recipients of FTA funding to develop an agency safety plan that meets FTA requirements.
At a minimum, these plans must include:
- Strategies for identifying risks and minimizing exposure to hazards.
- A designated and adequately trained safety officer to report directly to the agency CEO.
- Performance targets based on federal safety performance criteria.
- A staff training program.
Only the rail plans are to be overseen by a state safety agency, which must be created if one does not exist and is not already regulated by the FRA — typically, this applies to commuter rail systems. Each safety agency must also develop a statewide safety assurance plan. And each of these plans must be certified by the FTA.
The deadlines are approaching
Importantly, MAP-21 required that all states that come under the new regulation must stand up and begin to implement a state safety oversight agency by April 15, 2019. Although that seems like plenty of time, keep in mind that in most cases these will have to be created by state legislation. Also keep in mind that MAP-21 explicitly does not allow the FTA to extend this deadline, and that FTA is required to withhold federal funds in states that do not comply.
In a speech at the APTA Bus & Paratransit Conference in May, FTA Executive Director Matt Welbes warned attendees of these uncomfortable facts and urged the industry to make sure all states are complying with the rule. The business case for public and private organizations alike is pretty clear that we should heed this call.
For more information on the FTA’s State Safety Oversight program, visit www.transit.dot.gov/state-safety-oversight.