WMATA quietly announced last night it has lifted a long-standing ban on allowing independent safety monitors access to Metro tracks. Metro board Chairman Jim Graham met with WMATA higher-ups yesterday and it had some result, supposedly. Late Tuesday, WMATA officials said that the Tri-State Oversight Committee (TSOC TOC) does have the authority to carry out safety inspections and ensuring employees are complying with safety rules and regulations.
But once again, Metro fails to communicate. Eric Madison, chairman of the oversight committee, told the Washington Post that as of last night, no one from Metro had contacted him about removing the ban; he considers the ban still in place. The Metro press release appears contradictory to what the TSOC TOC has heard previously and didn’t contain any new information, so until WMATA provides the committee with a formal written agreement, they consider the ban still in effect. Madison told WaPo “[w]e want to get something in writing that lays out the specifics of how we access the right of way and that sort of thing. This has gone on long enough.”
We feel your pain, Mr. Madison.
WMATA hasn’t had it easy this week by any stretch. After WaPo‘s stunning report on Monday that Metro safety officials, including safety chief Alexa Dupigny-Samuels, was denying access to TSOC TOC monitors, senators from the Hill were calling for investigations of the transit agency. (A hearing will be held in the next few weeks.)
This whole issue can be boiled down to what is popping up as a clear-cut flaw over at WMATA: a complete failure to communicate properly. Metro’s latest statement says that “contrary to the implication of previously written and issued WMATA letters–the Tri-State Oversight Committee has access to Metro’s track bed, formally known as the right-of-way, to conduct safety inspections, ensure that employees are complying with the standard safety operating rules and procedures and to observe safe working conditions.”
Contrast that CYA statement with a memo sent to the TSOC TOC back in May in regards to a request for access: “We are sorry to inform you that your request to have employee type access to the [right of way] during all operational phases is denied.” Dupigny-Samuels also told the committee in that letter that TSOC TOC monitors could go to an “isolated worksite” on a weekend so they could observe Metro’s compliance with the rules. An isolated worksite is NOT the same as a live track.
At least Councilman Graham has a grasp of this monumental flaw with Metro. He told WaPo that the contradictions and documentations regarding the paper’s investigation and the resulting fallout are another example of “continuing internal and external communication problems.”
Yeah, no kidding.
MoCo Endorses New Transit Options
Good news for I-270 commuters: the Montgomery County Council endorsed a plan to add two reversible HOT lanes on parts of I-270. The informal vote was unanimous.
The proposal is for widening 270 north of Route 124 where it currently narrows to three lanes in each direction. The high-occupancy toll lanes would be free for carpools, vans and buses but solo drivers will pay to use them. Maryland highway officials have already indicated they will most likely back an I-270 expansion, so the council’s endorsement was more of an agreement of the state’s plans.
The council also endorsed light rail over bus rapid transit for the proposed Corridor Cities Transitway, which would connect Shady Grove to Clarksburg. A light rail system would cost around $900 million, which is nearly double the cost of a bus rapid transit system but still less than the Purple Line. However, many of the council members indicated that if state officials chose the bus system, they would not put up a fight.
While most of the council staff have no opposition to a cheaper bus system that can be built much sooner, the endorsement was more of positioning the council more in line with other local politicians to better present a united front to the state and to their constituents. Many in the northern part of MoCo expect light rail, as do several business groups within the county.
Maryland is expected to make a decision by the end of the year on whether to proceed with light rail or a bus rapid transit system connecting Clarksburg, Germantown, Gaithersburg and Rockville with the Shady Grove Metro.