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Posted at 7:36 PM ET, 08/20/2010

Sen. Coburn, let the Metro bill proceed

By washingtonpost.com editors

By Albert G. Jordan
Vienna

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) [letters, Aug. 17] gave his rationale for placing a hold on a bill for the federal government to regulate safety standards at Metro and transit systems nationwide. The bill is in response to the Metro accident that killed nine people in June 2009. He expressed some concern over funding, a valid issue that can surely be resolved by Congress. But his main issue was constitutional authority to regulate subway systems, and he concluded by saying that if Metro is tone-deaf to safety, “The Post should demand a house-cleaning within Metro.” A more direct and productive way to improve safety is to accept the reality we have.

First, as the National Transportation Safety Board concluded, the main contributing factor to the accident was Metro’s lack of a work culture devoted to safety.

Second, it is well-settled by Congress and the courts that the federal government can set standards for commuter trains.

Third, it is highly unlikely that transit systems will significantly improve safety without an external, standard-setting body. In his Aug. 15 Local Opinions commentary, general manager Richard Sarles discussed actions being taken by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, but continuing independent oversight is necessary.

Fourth, a federal approach to transit safety is more cost-effective than having localities develop the needed expertise. It also promotes sharing of lessons learned between different transit systems and can improve operational efficiencies.

For the sake of transit commuters and employees nationwide, I encourage Mr. Coburn to work with his colleagues to find suitable funding and then to move quickly to approve this bill.



By washingtonpost.com editors  | August 20, 2010; 7:36 PM ET
Categories:  Metro, transportation  
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