WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Ben Cardin and Barbara A. Mikulski (both D-Md.), Mark Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-Va.) today convened an oversight meeting on safety of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (Metro) system with Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld.
Senator Mikulski last month called for the meeting in light of Metro’s shut down of its entire rail transit system over safety concerns following a fire at tracks outside the McPherson Square station.
“Metro riders have a right to know that it is safe to ride Metro. The culture of safety must include the operational safety and reliability of cars, tracks and infrastructure but also personal safety free from violence and harassment,” said Senator Cardin. “I’ve known and worked with Paul Wiedefeld for years. He has taken on an enormous challenge in his new role at Metro. I take him at his word that he is working to change the culture at WMATA to one that prioritizes safety and security. Such change is urgently needed. As a regional delegation, we understand the special responsibility the federal government has to Metro and we will continue to be vocal watchdogs on behalf of our constituents and all Metro riders.”
“Today we heard directly from General Manager Wiedefeld about our shared goal of a Metro system that is safe, reliable and that passengers can count on. I called for today’s meeting to make sure Metro has a culture of safety. Passengers are concerned about their safety because of the running of red lights, the integrity of the tracks, and the violence we’ve had,” Senator Mikulski said. “I’ve demanded a clear line of communication, so that if there are going to be future disruptions or delays, passengers, businesses and communities know about it. And working together with the U.S. Department of Transportation, the safety and security of Metro must be strengthened. We have a long way to go, but I believe that working together we can get Metro literally and figuratively back on track.”
“WMATA has a long road to recovery, and we heard from Mr. Wiedefeld on some of his plans to improve Metro’s culture to emphasize safety, and for making much-needed infrastructure improvements. As part of that process, he will clearly have to make some tough decisions about whether to disrupt the ridership, but we obtained a commitment from Mr. Wiedefeld today to ensure that the public is provided as much notice as possible when those plans are made,” said Senator Warner. “Our congressional delegation is united in its commitment to conduct appropriate oversight and provide assistance however we can to improve the system for all Metro riders. As Mr. Wiedefeld settles in at Metro, I also look forward to hearing his plans to ensure financial viability of the Metro system over the short- and long-term. If additional resources may be needed to shore up the aging system, that discussion must follow a consistent improvement in Metro performance.”
“The region’s lapsed confidence in Metro won’t be restored overnight, but today’s meeting with General Manager Wiedefeld, as well as his team’s record since December, gives me cautious optimism that Metro’s new management is headed down the right path,” said Senator Kaine. “Mr. Wiedefeld’s team inherited a troubled system, and they deserve a chance to turn things around. My colleagues and I will continue to oppose the misguided idea that we can cut Metro’s funding to starve it into better performance. As we advocate for funding to others in Congress, the best case we could make would be showing that WMATA is following through on every item on the safety and maintenance to-do lists.”
Senators Cardin, Mikulski, Warner and Kaine have all been outspoken advocates for Metro safety. Senator Mikulski’s bill, the National Metro Safety Act of 2009 established the first-ever Federal rail transit safety standard and served as the basis for safety legislation ultimately signed into law directing the Secretary of transportation to develop safety standards for all rail systems and take into consideration recommendations by the NTSB. Following the fatal smoke incident onboard a Metro train at L’Enfant station, Senator Warner asked the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) and WMATA to work together to design a more robust and transparent process for ensuring the interoperability of radio networks used by the region’s emergency responders. In response, COG and WMATA pledged to implement a system for testing of Metro and regional emergency radio systems in order to address the breakdown in communications that was identified following the fatal incident on January 12.
In support of Metro resources, Senator Cardin, as a senior member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, was instrumental in passing legislation in 2008 authorizing $1.5 billion in federal funds over 10 years to help improve Metro’s aging infrastructure, providing Metro’s first dedicated federal funding source. In her leadership role on the Senate Appropriations Committee, Senator Mikulski has put $150 million in the federal checkbook for the last seven years to improve Metro’s safety and operational reliability. Senator Mikulski has fought to maintain this full annual funding authorized for Metro. The U.S. DOT has strict oversight as to how WMATA spends this federal funding – prioritizing the recommendations of the NTSB and FTA.