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Legacy of D.C. Metro Crash Could Be Felt Nationwide

Wednesday, June 23, 2010 - 03:22 PM

(David Schultz, WAMU News) Metro, Washington D.C.'s embattled transit authority, has changed drastically in the past 12 months - ever since two of its trains crashed into each other a year ago this week, killing eight passengers and a train operator.

The change felt most viscerally by passengers has to do with how Metro's trains operate. Because its automatic train control system was thought to be at fault, Metro switched its trains to manual control. This has not only hurt the trains' on-time performance, it's made them more herky jerky - especially when coming to a stop at a platform. As a result, motion sickness has become a real hazard for many Metro riders.

But the legacy of the Metro train crash goes beyond some queasy train passengers.

Shortly after the crash, the Obama Administration - led by Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff - introduced a bill in Congress that would give the feds oversight authority of urban rail systems - not just in D.C. but nationwide.   Now Senators Christopher Dodd, Robert Menendez, and Richard Shelby say they'll get the  legislative process moving on  the bill

As we reported this morning at WAMU, Rogoff says there's a huge loophole in this country's transportation law: the federal government can create standards for nearly every mode of transportation - cars, trains, boats, airplanes, etc. - but it can't regulate urban rail systems like Metro, MTA in New York, CTA in Chicago and others.

Instead, those rail systems are regulated by the individual states in which they're located. This patchwork system of regulation, Rogoff says, has created an environment where the kinds of safety lapses that lead to something like last year's Metro crash can occur.

Generally speaking, the feds assuming powers once held by the states is a touchy subject. But the D.C. region's Congressional delegation is strongly backing this bill. And even many Metro officials say they support it, on the condition that more federal regulation of Metro comes with more federal dollars given to Metro.

At the moment, Rogoff's bill appears to have the wind behind its back. The one-year anniversary of the Metro crash is receiving lots of attention, which could spur Congress to move more quickly.

Also, the final National Transportation Safety Board report on the Metro crash is scheduled to be released late next month. By all accounts, it's expected to be nothing less than scathing, and that could further prod Congress into action.

If this bill passes, it would have a huge impact on the way major metropolitan transit systems function. And, ultimately, that would be longest lasting legacy of the deadly Metro crash.

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