WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration (FTA) announced March 18 that the 31 State Safety Oversight (SSO) programs in 30 states have been certified in advance of the April 15, 2019, safety deadline.
“Safety is the department’s top priority, and we are pleased that all states have met certification requirements and are providing more rigorous state safety oversight of federally funded rail transit systems,” said U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao.
Changes in federal public transportation law required states to strengthen the oversight of rail transit systems. The SSO Final Rule included a three-year compliance deadline and applied to federally funded rail fixed guideway public transportation systems such as heavy rail, light rail, monorail and streetcar systems.
“The hard work of state agencies and our shared commitment to improving the safety of our nation’s rail transit systems has been a driving force to establish stronger state safety oversight,” said FTA Acting Administrator K. Jane Williams.
To assist states in meeting the enhanced safety provisions, federal law authorized a formula grant program. Since 2013, FTA has provided approximately $136.1 million to eligible states to develop and implement a SSO Program compliant with federal requirements.
To achieve FTA certification, a SSO program had to meet several federal statutory requirements, including establishing a SSO agency that is financially and legally independent from the rail transit agencies it oversees. In addition, a state had to 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 the state’s jurisdiction. Furthermore, SSO agency personnel responsible for performing safety oversight activities had to be appropriately trained.
If a state had failed to meet the deadline, FTA would have been prohibited by law from awarding any new federal transit funds to transit agencies within the state until certification was achieved.
According to an NPR.org report, a school bus – with no children on board – crashed into a Maryland Transit Association bus carrying dozens of commuters. Six people were killed and several were injured. Click here to read the complete article. Photo: Patrick Semansky/AP.
The Times-Herald RecordOnline reported that on October 21, 2016, a joint state and federal legislative commission will begin hearings with New Jersey Transit (NJT) administrators in the wake of the September 29 Hoboken, NJ transit crash that injured more than one hundred and killed Fabiola Bittar de Kroon, a young mother and lawyer who had recently moved to New Jersey with her husband and one-year-old daughter. Read the complete article here.
The New York Times reported that a New Jersey Transit train has crashed into a major Hoboken, NJ transit hub during rush hour. A transportation official confirmed that one person has died and many others have been injured. Urban Search and Rescue squads are at the site. No details yet on exact numbers of deaths or injured, or the cause of the crash. Read the story here.
Just ask UTU District of Columbia Legislative Director Willie Bates about safety standards for rail-transit systems.
Unlike freight and passenger railroads, rail-transit systems are not bound by federal construction standards, nor are their workers in safety senstive positions governed by federal hours-of-service limitations, says Bates.
As a member of the Obama administration’s 20-person Transit Rail Advisory Committee for Safety, Bates is collaborating with his fellow committee members to draft federal regulations for 47 separate such systems that currently set their own safety rules and procedures.
Congressional action will be needed to put them in place, as a 1964 law prohibits federal oversight of transit agencies. Bates supports giving the Federal Transit Administration regulatory authority for transit-system safety, pointing to a 2011 National Transportation Safety Board report citing “inconsistent practices, inadequate standards and marginal effectiveness with respect to state safety oversight of rail-transit systems.”
Bates last year was named by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to the Transit Rail Advisory Committee for Safety for good reason. In 2009, Amtrak’s highest safety honor — the Charles Luna Memorial Safety Award — was bestowed upon Bates, who has worked injury-free for 25 years as an Amtrak conductor, and never had a safety-rules violation. The award is named for the UTU’s first International president, who later was an Amtrak board member.
And in 2011, the Governor of Virginia bestowed upon Bates the Governor’s Transportation Safety Award for rail transportation. Bates formerly was president and vice local chairperson for UTU Local 1933 in Richmond.
The efforts of the Transit Rail Advisory Committee are supported by the UTU National Legislative Office, which is educating congressional lawmakers on the importance of standardized federal safety standards for rail transit systems.