Work is under way to set up safety commission for Washington Metro system

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WASHINGTON — One month after President Donald Trump signed legislation authorizing an independent commission to monitor safety on the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority's subway system, work is under way to get the Metrorail Safety Commission up and running, according to the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

The Washington council is coordinating the effort until Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia appoint commissioners, says Nicholas Ramfos, director of transportation operations. He says the council also has started the search for an executive director, and is hiring temporary staff for such functions as human resources and information technology. Those preliminary steps should be finished in October.

“Once those commissioners come on board, and there's an executive director on board, I think things will move pretty quickly,” Ramfos says.

The commission will comprise six members, two from each jurisdiction. They will have the power to monitor Metrorail safety, initiate investigations, and order WMATA to make repairs. Ramfos said the commission's annual budget would be about $5 million.

Media representatives for Virginia and the District say they were working collaboratively to get the commission “up and running as quickly as possible.” They were working with the Washington council on the executive search and administrative details. The District representative says the city's fiscal 2018 budget includes $750,000 for the safety commission.

The next step for the Metrorail Safety Commission is certification by the Federal Transit Administration for the State Safety Organization program. That program monitors transit safety for the FTA. According to FTA documents, the Washington region is the only multi-state collection among the 30 states that are obligated to establish SSO programs. States have until April 15, 2019, to have their programs certified. Failure to meet the deadline will mean the FTA will begin withholding federal transit funding.

As of Aug. 29, Ohio was the only state to be certified. The Washington region is one of five states that are the closest to receiving certificates.

Another issue to be resolved is funding withheld by the Department of Transportation in February. That’s when the department kept about $4 million in WMATA funding because the states had not met a transportation department deadline for setting up the safety commission. According to department, those funds will be released when the commission is functioning.
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