The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) is again notifying the states where rail transit systems operate that federal law requires they establish an FTA-certified State Safety Oversight (SSO) Program by April 15, 2019. If a state fails to meet the deadline, the FTA is prohibited by federal law from obligating any funds to public transportation agencies throughout that state until certification is achieved.

There are 30 states required to obtain SSO Program certification, and this week, Ohio became the first state in the nation to complete the process and have its program certified, providing for the highest level of safety for their rail transit riders and workers.

“Certification is an important achievement by the state of Ohio and demonstrates that the Ohio SSO Program has the authority, resources, and expertise needed to oversee the rail transit systems in that state,” said FTA Deputy Administrator Jane Williams. “The certification deadline is now less than two years away and time is becoming critical for all affected states, especially those that still need state legislative action.”

States that fail to establish an FTA-certified SSO Program by the deadline are at risk of having all transit dollars withheld until compliance is met. The FTA is encouraging states to act quickly to enact any necessary legislation, statutes, and regulations, particularly those states whose legislatures meet only part-time or biennially. Currently, seven states still require state legislative or executive action prior to FTA certification (Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Puerto Rico, and Tennessee). By federal law, the April 15, 2019 deadline cannot be waived or extended.

To achieve FTA certification, an SSO Program must meet several federal statutory requirements, including that the SSO agency has financial and legal independence from the rail transit agencies it oversees. In addition, a state must ensure that its SSO agency adopts and enforces relevant federal and state safety laws, has investigatory authority, and has appropriate financial and human resources for the number, size, and complexity of the rail transit systems within its jurisdiction. Furthermore, SSO agency personnel responsible for performing safety oversight activities must have proper training and certification.

Technical Assistance Available for States

The FTA is committed to helping states meet the April 15, 2019 deadline and their federal statutory obligations to provide stronger and more effective state safety oversight rail transit systems. Since 2013, FTA has provided approximately $90 million in grant funds to all affected states to develop and implement an SSO Program that is compliant with federal requirements. Also, the FTA has provided a toolkit with guidance for managing the SSO Program certification process, and maintains frequent contact with states and SSO agencies to provide assistance.

In addition, the FTA has posted online a status table that shows each state’s progress toward certification and the approximate amount of federal transit funds the FTA would be prohibited from obligating should the state fail to achieve certification by the deadline.

By federal law, the April 15, 2019 deadline cannot be waived or extended. FTA strongly recommends that states submit their SSO Program certification applications as soon as possible. FTA is committed to working closely with states to fulfill their statutory responsibility; however, states should not assume that applications submitted after Sept. 30, 2018, will receive a decision on certification by the deadline. In some cases, the FTA may need to do onsite verifications, or states may need to correct and resubmit parts of their applications, all of which must be completed before the deadline.

The FTA SSO Program final rule took effect in April 2016, establishing a three-year period for states to obtain program certification.