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Board Meeting: Railroad Accident Report - Collision of Two Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority Metrorail Trains Near Fort Totten Station, Washington, D.C., June 22, 2009 (DCA-09-MR-007) - Chairman's Opening and Closing Remarks
Deborah A. P. Hersman
National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Board Meeting: Railroad Accident Report - Collision of Two Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority Metrorail Trains Near Fort Totten Station, Washington, D.C., June 22, 2009, Washington, DC

This has been a long day and a very technical Board report.  I want to express my appreciation to my fellow Board members for their participation in today’s discussion.  I think we have approved a very strong report that will significantly increase the safety of rail transit systems across the country.

Before closing, I would like to recognize a few groups and individuals.  First, I want to acknowledge the tremendous work of the first responders immediately after the accident, who, despite having trouble accessing the accident site, provided invaluable search and recovery efforts.  These include the DC Fire and Rescue, and Metro police, and fire and rescue from Montgomery, Prince George’s, Arlington and Fairfax Counties.

I’d also like to acknowledge the work of Secretary LaHood and FTA Administrator Rogoff.  Secretary LaHood was only in office 5 months, Administrator Rogoff a few weeks, when this tragedy occurred.  But they quickly realized the need for Federal standards for rail transit.  They have proposed a far reaching legislative proposal that would establish a Federal role in oversight and safety standards, such as crashworthiness standards for rail transit.

Our partners in Congress also responded.  Last year, members of the local delegation introduced legislation to implement the NTSB urgent recommendations issued in the wake of this tragedy.  And, as part of the Passenger Rail Investment Improvement Act, Congress approved $150 million in federal funding to improve the reliability and safety of Metro and mandated four federal appointees to the Metro Board.  Further, last month, the Senate Banking Committee approved a bill to set national safety standards for U.S. transit systems and improve state oversight.  Without the tireless efforts of many House and Senate members, these initiatives would not have been possible.

The Washington Metrorail system is the second largest rail transit system in the country, in terms of passengers served.  It carries 200 million passengers each year – that’s more than 600,000 people every day.  As FTA Administrator Rogoff noted in his remarks on the 2009 Final SSO Audit Report, despite Metro’s safety challenges, Washington area commuters are safer travelling on Metro than they are traveling on our highways.  Over Metrorail’s 33 year history, there have been 13 on-board crash-related fatalities; unfortunately, we experience that same number of fatalities every two weeks in automobile accidents on the roads around Washington.  Metro is a vital link for so many of us -- linking home and school, work and activities, tourists and travelers.  A safe and reliable transit system is paramount to us all. 

Throughout this investigation, I have met many of the ten thousand-plus dedicated and committed men and women who work for Metro.  It will take many people, individually and collectively, to change the safety culture at Metro.  This change cannot start and end simply with a new Chief Safety Officer or a new General Manager. The Board of Directors needs to embrace their safety role, and Metro employees – the people on the front lines - must also have a seat at the table when it comes to information, communication and expectations if we are to see a new and improved safety culture at WMATA.

Fairly or not, Metro operates under the intense scrutiny of the local and national media, and public officials.  In the past year, Metro has admittedly faced a number of accidents and incidents that have further fueled that scrutiny. 

Increased ridership.  Aging infrastructure.  Additional revenue for operating and capital costs.  These are not Metro’s issues alone.  These are issues facing every transit agency nationwide.  There is no doubt that Metro faces significant challenges.  But the scope of the challenges does not – and cannot – excuse any of us, including Metro, from putting safety first.  Our report today lays a path for Metro to follow. 

We all want to see safety improved and we really do want to see Metro succeed.  Some may view the report we’ve adopted today as hard hitting.  Yes, our recommendations are tough and they set a high bar … but that is the level of safety that the traveling public expects and deserves.

Thank you.  We stand adjourned.