By: Allan M. Siegel
On March 31, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan signed a bill that creates a
new safety agency to oversee the rail system of the Washington Metropolitan
Area Transit Authority, also known as WMATA or Metro. Before Maryland,
Virginia and the District of Columbia had already enacted similar laws.
Because Metro is established by an interstate compact between these three
jurisdictions, the new safety agency required action by Maryland, Virginia,
and the District of Columbia together.
The new safety agency will be called the Washington Metrorail Safety Commission.
Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia originally informally
agreed to create a safety commission back in 2009, following the Fort
Totten disaster in which one Metro train rear-ended another, killing nine
people. The Federal Government subsequently required the three jurisdictions
to create the safety commission by February of 2017. When the three jurisdictions
missed that deadline, the Federal Government began withholding almost
$5 million of its funding to Metro. Now that all three jurisdictions have
worked together to establish the safety commission, that funding will
be provided after all.
Since the Fort Totten disaster, Metro has been embarrassed by other safety
failures such as an incident near the L'Enfant Plaza station in 2016,
in which dozens of riders were trapped in a train that filled with smoke;
one person died of a heart attack and others were sickened. We hope that
the creation of the new safety commission will drive Metro to prioritize
the safety of its riders. Otherwise, when Metro fails its riders and people
are hurt, lawyers like the personal injury attorneys at Chaikin, Sherman,
Cammarata & Siegel, P.C., will act to compel Metro to meet its safety
obligations to the public.