Federal Transit Administration Announces Final Rule Strengthening State Safety Oversight of Rail Transit Systems

Federal Transit Administration Announces Final Rule Strengthening State Safety Oversight of Rail Transit Systems
Image: FTA
March 16, 2016

The U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has announced a final rule that significantly strengthens state safety oversight and enforcement authority to prevent and mitigate accidents and incidents on rail transit systems.

"With the more rigorous and effective state safety oversight required by this final rule and federal law, transit systems across the nation will receive greater safety oversight with the aim of improving safety for passengers and transit system employees," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. "Greater investigatory and enforcement power combined with better training will give state safety oversight watchdogs sharper teeth to help rail transit agencies keep their systems safe."

The final rule, which has been officially published in the Federal Register, will take effect in mid-April. The rule applies to states where a rail transit system operates, and carries out several explicit Federal statutory requirements, including that a state must submit its State Safety Oversight (SSO) program to FTA for certification and that the designated SSO Agency must have financial and legal independence from the rail transit agencies it oversees.

In addition, the final rule requires that a state must ensure that the SSO Agency adopts and enforces relevant Federal and state safety laws, has investigatory authority, and has appropriate financial and human resources for the number, size and complexity of the rail transit systems within its jurisdiction. Furthermore, SSO Agency personnel responsible for performing safety oversight activities must have proper training and certification.

"FTA has delivered exactly what Congress authorized: a stronger, more robust state ‎safety oversight program with increased enforcement tools," said FTA Acting Administrator Therese McMillan. "States should act swiftly to come into compliance to provide a higher level of safety for their rail transit system riders and workers."

Within three years of the effective date of this final rule, states with an operating rail transit system must have a SSO program certified by FTA. FTA has already certified two of the affected 30 states as being compliant: California and Massachusetts. Most of the remaining 28 states have also already taken some actions toward compliance with these critical safety requirements.

To assist in this effort, Congress has authorized a stable source of funds to the states for their use in meeting these new safety oversight obligations. The existing Federal SSO program regulations will remain in effect during the transition period and then be rescinded.

Strengthening the existing State Safety Oversight Program is one of four components of a comprehensive public transportation safety program Congress required FTA to establish in the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act in 2012 and reauthorized in the Fixing America's Surface Transportation (FAST) Act in 2015.