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National Metro Safety Act

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski

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Mr. President, on Thursday I reintroduced the National Metro Safety Act with Senators Cardin, Murray, Warner and Webb. I first introduced this bill on July 23, 2009, after the deadly crash on the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority's Metro system that killed 9 people and injured more than 50.

This legislation does three things. First, it gives the U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary the authority to establish and enforce national safety standards for metro systems across America. Second, it requires the U.S. Department of Transportation to work with the National Transportation Safety Board to develop these standards. Third, it requires the U.S. Department of Transportation to implement NTSB's most wanted safety standards. These include: crashworthiness, data event recorder, emergency entry and evacuation standards for rail cars; and hour of service regulations for train operators.

On Monday June, 22, 2009, the unthinkable happened right here in our Nation's Capital. A Metro train struck another train during evening rush hour. Eight passengers were killed including one Marylander from Hyattsville and one Metro employee. Over 50 passengers were injured by the crash. It was the worst accident in Metro's history.

Approximately, 1 year later, the NTSB released its report from its investigation of the crash. This was the saddest report with grim revelations. It found that the Metro crash could have been prevented and nine lives could have been saved. The NTSB's investigation found two probable causes: a faulty track circuit and the lack of a track circuit verification test. This test would have identified the malfunctioning circuit and could have prevented the crash.

The NTSB also found attributing causes to the crash. These included a lack of a safety culture at Metro; failure to monitor the train control system and replace its oldest railcars; lack of a maintenance plan from the circuit manufacturer; Metro Board and the Tri-State Oversight Committee's ineffective safety oversight; and the Federal Transit Administration's lack of authority to provide safety oversight.

In its report, the NTSB also made 23 recommendations to prevent future fatal crashes. Among these was the recommendation to the U.S. Department of Transportation to seek the authority to provide safety oversight to transit systems and to establish and enforce national safety standards. The NTSB did its job and now it is time for Congress to do ours. We must pass this bill to give the U.S. Department of Transportation the authority it needs to establish Federal safety standards.

We have Federal safety standards for airplanes, commuter rail, and buses, but none for metro systems. Rail transit is the only transportation mode without Federal safety standards, oversight and enforcement even though it has over 14 million daily riders. This is more than U.S. airlines with 2 million domestic flights daily or passenger railroads like Amtrak and MARC each with 74,430 and 30,000 daily riders respectfully. Up until now, safety has been left up to the states. Each State has its own safety and enforcement practices. States have oversight agencies with very little staff, small budgets and varying amount of expertise. These oversight agencies also aren't always independent of the transit systems they oversee.

I know the Obama administration has its bill to establish standards and the Banking Committee has its bill. I support both of these but let me tell you why I am crazy about my bill. It requires the U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary to implement the NTSB's most wanted. These are the recommendations the NTSB has consistently called for.

Congress must do two things. First, it must meet its Federal funding obligation for Metro. We must provide $150 million for Metro in the year-long continuing resolution. I want to thank Senator Murray for including these vital funds in the Senate's bill. This is really $300 million for Metro with the local matching funds.

Metro needs this money to implement the NTSB's recommendations and prevent future crashes. This money is essential to Metro's reform. It is American's subway. This isn't a local pork barrel. America needs it to go to work. Metro serves not only our civilian population, but also the many people working at the Pentagon every day that need to be at their duty station and their battle station. We need Metro to be safe and operational reliable.

Second, Congress must pass this legislation. We owe it to the people that ride Metro and we owe it to the people that work at Metro. We can never forget the people that died that fateful day. I urge the Senate to pass safety legislation so no community ever has to suffer the loss that the National Capital Region did during the summer of 2009.