Peter Rogoff is administrator of the Federal Transit Administration, part of DOT.

Transit Safety Finally in Motion

A U.S. Senate committee sent the administration's bill to the full Senate on June 29, and a 20-member Transit Rail Advisory Committee for Safety with representatives of the nation's biggest urban systems was announced June 23.

DOT's Federal Transit Administration and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood sent the Obama administration's Public Transportation Program Safety Act of 2010 to Congress about seven months ago and have periodically issued reminders about its importance. Major crashes, employee deaths, and a scathing federal review of the Washington, D.C., transit system were the catalyst for the bill, but Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff said other U.S. systems had similar problems that make federal oversight of the industry's safety essential.

LaHood on June 29 thanked the U.S. Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee for marking up the bill and then unanimously voting to send it to the full Senate. It is the first transit-specific safety bill ever sent to Congress by any administration, he said, crediting three senators on the panel -- Chairman Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., Ranking Member Richard Shelby, R-Ala., and Robert Menendez, D-N.J. -- for their work on it.

"Today's milestone is the first major step in untying the hands of the Federal Transit Administration and allowing us to implement national safety standards," said Rogoff. "While transit is a safe way to travel, we still see too many preventable accidents, including fatal accidents. We need these tools to ensure that transit remains safe as our systems age and experienced employees retire in increasing numbers."

The advisory committee will help FTA develop new policies and would assist if the bill becomes law and FTA is given authority to promulgate new transit safety requirements -- authority it currently lacks. The members include representatives of transit systems in San Francisco, Washington, Atlanta, Dallas, New York City, Chicago, Portland, Cleveland, Tampa, Denver, and Memphis. Also on the committee is William Grizard, director for Safety Management Programs of the American Public Transportation Association, the trade association for transit companies.

"No rider should ever wonder if they're safe on our transit systems," Dodd said as the committee prepared to mark up the bill. "This legislation will replace the current ad hoc approach to transit safety oversight with strong federal leadership, clear national transit safety standards, and improved state oversight of transit safety. Passage of this legislation will significantly enhance the safety of our transit systems and the commuters who rely on them."

The bill would authorize $66 million in appropriations during a three-year period for transit safety.

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