November 2, 2016
Improvements in FTA’s Safety Oversight Policies and Procedures Could Strengthen Program Implementation and Address Persistent Challenges
Recent incidents have demonstrated weaknesses in the safety performance and oversight of some rail transit systems. For example, in January 2015, a Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority Metrorail train was involved in a serious incident in which 1 passenger died, and 91 people were injured. The National Transportation Safety Board determined that the State safety oversight agency that monitored Metrorail lacked sufficient resources, technical capacity, and enforcement authority to carry out its oversight responsibilities. In October 2015, the Secretary of Transportation directed the Federal Transit Authority (FTA) to assume direct safety oversight for Metrorail until the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia establish a fully functioning and capable oversight agency.
Based on our previous work, we determined FTA may face significant challenges in carrying out this authority. Accordingly, we initiated this audit to assess the Agency’s actions to assume and relinquish direct safety oversight of a rail transit agency. As part of our review, we also provided an update on FTA’s progress toward addressing the challenges to enhanced safety oversight we identified in our January 2012 report, Challenges to Improving Oversight of Rail Transit Safety and Implementing an Enhanced Federal Role. We found that FTA has actions underway to develop policies and procedures for assuming direct safety oversight of a rail transit agency and for transferring it back to the State safety oversight agencies but lacks milestones for finalization. In addition, FTA has assessed staffing needs but faces challenges in acquiring and retaining personnel and resources; has identified safety data gaps but has not established a data-driven, risk-based oversight system; and has established safety performance criteria and standards, but the criteria are limited and the standards are voluntary. FTA concurred with our seven recommendations for improving its overall rail transit safety oversight.