The Washington Post reported on Sunday that the Obama administration will propose taking over safety regulation of subways and light rail, including the regional Metro system. Metro has been taking a regular beating in the press recently for safety concerns and its anemic response to those concerns. Metro has apparently gone so far to frustrate efforts to investigate its safety procedures and efforts that it has barred independent monitors from walking along its subway tracks, even escorted by Metro employees, to observe its procedures in practice.
The frightening revelation is that the safety oversight is apparently imposted by a relatively powerless, “Tri-State Oversight Committee”, “which has no employees, office or phone number. It also has no direct regulatory authority over Metro.” Locally, concerns regarding Metro’s safety have mushroomed following a June 22, 2009 crash that left nine people dead and injured 80. Since then, the Washington Post has reported an another “dangerously close” near miss, an August 9 fatality when track repairman Michael Nash was struck and killed, and another fatality when a Metro technician John Moore was killed in a separate incident in September.
I believe that density based development around the Metro corridors is critical to long-term regional success, reduction of carbon footprint, reduction of use of non-renewable fossil fuels, and reversing or at least slowing down the traffic impacts of decades of sprawl. A trusted, safe and reliable Metro system is a prerequisite to this entire style of development working. In particular, the rail extension to Dulles Airport and the interconnected plans to redevelop Tyson’s Corner into a more intelligently designed, denser urban center with improved walkability are crucial to the successful continued vitality of the entire region. Leaving the success of these important ventures in the hands of a powerless committee with no direct regulatory authority is simply not acceptable.