Federal Rail Safety Standards And Metro
MR. KOJO NNAMDI
From WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, lessons learned and unlearned from the War in Afghanistan. But first, the war zone of the daily commute in the Washington region. Members of Congress and Federal officials will meet with transportation leaders later today to talk about the development of the first ever set of federal safety standards for rail transit systems.
MR. KOJO NNAMDI
And many of those in the Washington region who use Metro regularly are thinking hard about rail safety after the past several days when mysterious software glitches forced Metro's rail system to shut down multiple times and a downtown station closed twice during this morning's rush hour. Joining us to explore what these new standards may mean for Metro and for metro riders is Barbara Mikulski. She is a member of the United States Senate. She's a democrat from Maryland. Senator Mikulski, thank you for joining us.
SENATOR BARBARA MIKULSKI
Good afternoon, Kojo. I'm so glad we could talk this afternoon. I'm heading over to the Metro Hyattsville maintenance and commanding control center to talk about the safety standards that I and other members of the delegation got passed. But we are also going to get a complete briefing on what the heck is going on with Metro. The last two weeks have been a nightmare for commuters and my constituents are emailing both me and other websites saying my God, they're raising fairs and predictability and safety are going down. So we want to get right on top of this.
You mentioned that you introduced this bill and it's significant because you introduced it after a crash on Metro's Red Line left nine riders dead and many more injured here in Washington three years ago. So Senator Mikulski, what are the next steps from here? Who's responsible for drafting these standards and what are some of the things you would like to have those standards require?
Well, three years ago, we had a terrible tragedy in which nine people died on the Red Line. And I insisted on reform and really pounded the table to shake up Metro and said we all needed to be safety officers. I drafted national frame work insisting on national federal transit regulations for safety because there were not -- we had them for buses, we have them for airplanes but not for this. And Kojo, just to give you a sense, I got my ideas from the National Transportation Safety Board. They had studied accidents, both here, at the Washington Metro and they said we needed to have crash-worthy standards for cars.
We needed to have emergency entry and evacuation standards for railroad cars. We needed to make sure we had the proper rules and regs for the hours for train operators. So we passed the legislation in Congress. It took a little bit of taffy pulling to do that, but we got it done. President signed it July 6th and now it will be up to the Federal Department of Transportation to draft the complete set of regs and then do the oversight that there implemented.
Senator Mikulski, what sense do you have for whether this is an issue that's being approached with a sense of urgency? Metro riders are obviously concerned about safety after the reports the heard this weekend about the software glitches that shut the system down. How urgent is this?
I think there's an incredible sense of urgency. My constituents are scared and also their fear is going into anger and outrage. First of all, the fact that the train locations went dark twice and the train operators had to move to the nearest stations and three cheers for them for being able to do that safely. People were frightened, then they -- within the last two weeks we had trains where the doors popped open, there were a variety of things. One, they had to evacuate a car in 100 degree heat and the train operator was saying go ahead and jump, and they didn't know if it was, you know, on a third rail or what.
You can't be a mother traveling the Metro with kids in a stroller, a senior with a heart condition, a commuter trying to get to their job. You've got to have reliability of Metro and you've got to have safety of Metro and you can't say you want a fare increase without a safety and reliability increase. So today, we want to do, not only the big federal standards, but, Kojo, I'm going to be asking -- I'm going to have the big shots from the Federal Department of Transportation there, John Porcari, who's the number two, the deputy, Peter Rogoff, who's head of the Federal Transit. I want them to join with Metro and investigate what is happened in the last two weeks. I want them to focus it, fix it and prevent it from happening again.
Well, coming up with standards is one thing, Madam Senator, coming up with the money to fix problems is another. In the Washington regions, Metro system doesn't have a reliable dedicated funding stream. The basically have to go and beg for money regularly from Congress, from D.C., from Maryland, from Virginia. How are you going to make your case to your colleagues on the Hill that investments in transit, in general, and in Metro, in particular, are necessary?
You know, Kojo, you couldn't be more right about a federal dedicated revenue stream for Metro. It's something I certainly would hope for. But in today's fiscal climate and the resistance by the other party, it'd be hard to get. But what you do have, though we don't have a federally designated revenue stream, you've got federally designated, dedicated members of Congress. I can't say enough about the guys in Virginia who work on this -- and certainly Eleanor Holmes Norton.
We really work as Team Metro. And I can assure you that in this year's appropriation, we have $150 million in there targeted to safety upgrades, find those crash-worthy cars, technological upgrades and so on. So would I like a designated revenues train? You bet. But you got to know, we've got federal -- if we don't have federal designated revenue, we've got federal dedicated members of Congress who fight for the revenue.
It's my understanding that the safety standards were part of a larger transportation bill that only passed Congress after a kind of knock down drag out fight. Any concerns on your part about where you might have had to compromise to get that bill through?
Well, you know, you always have to compromise. We had to take a little bit of S money and we would've probably wanted to go much farther to create an infrastructure bank in our country. You know, we need major infrastructure over hall, whether it's in our roads, our bridges and our Metro systems. What's happening to Washington Metro is also challenges in Metro systems all over America. I would like to have a federal infrastructure bank that would really focus on transportation. It would create jobs and improve safety, reliability and also the environment.
Senator Barbara Mikulski is a democrat from Maryland who is a member of the United States Senate. Senator Mikulski, thank you so much for joining us.
And, Kojo, let's stay tuned. I'd like to keep you updated on this. I want my constituents to know, you know, in Maryland and Virginia, we're going across party -- parties, we're going to cross the Potomac to really work -- to fix Metro and to make that fix permanent. Take care.
Senator Mikulski, staying tuned is what we do. Thank you so much for joining us. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, Lessons Learned and Unlearned from the War in Afghanistan, Washington Post correspondent Rajiv Chandrasekaran will be joining us. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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