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U.S. Transportation Secretary Foxx Announces Proposed Rule to Increase State Safety Oversight of Rail Transit Systems

Contact: Steve Kulm

WASHINGTON – U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced today at Washington’s Union Station a proposed rule (PDF) to increase oversight responsibilities of State Safety Oversight Agencies (SSOAs) by replacing the existing outdated regulatory framework with one designed to better evaluate the effectiveness of a rail transit agency’s system safety program. The Secretary’s visit was the last stop on his four-day, five state GROW AMERICA Express bus tour highlighting the importance of investing in America’s infrastructure and to encourage Congress to act on a long-term transportation bill.

Reflecting new statutory safety authority established by the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), the proposed rule issued by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) would give states more resources to increase oversight over rail transit systems. The proposed rule would require adoption and enforcement of federal and state safety laws, and require SSOAs to be financially and legally independent of the rail transit systems they oversee.

In addition, FTA would enhance its authority to review and approve each State Safety Oversight (SSO) program, including triennial audits, review of annual status reports, and certification of SSOAs. If states are not meeting the statutory criteria, FTA may withhold federal funds until an SSO program is certified. Public comments on the proposed rule will be accepted for sixty days after its publication in the Federal Register.

“We must improve, modernize and transform rail transit safety oversight to provide the increased level of safety expected by the millions of passengers who use rail transit every day,” said Secretary Foxx. “Rail transit is a safe travel option, but we have an obligation and opportunity to make it even safer.”

“FTA appreciates the continued cooperation and engagement of our state and rail transit industry partners as we take this major step forward toward a new safety regulatory framework,” said FTA Acting Administrator Therese McMillan. “We drafted the proposed rule to ensure it allows for the flexibility and scalability needed to provide effective safety benefits for passengers and employees of transit agencies of all sizes and operating environments.”

On February 2, the Obama Administration announced a plan to address the infrastructure deficit with a $478 billion, six-year surface transportation reauthorization proposal, building on the GROW AMERICA Act, which the Administration first released last year. The plan makes critical investments in infrastructure needed to promote long-term economic growth, enhance safety and efficiency, and support jobs for the 21st century.

The need for these investments is clear. Earlier this month, U.S. DOT released a landmark study, “Beyond Traffic” that looked at the trends and choices facing American transportation over the next three decades. These included a rapidly growing population, increasing freight volume, demographic shifts in rural and urban areas, and a transportation system that’s facing more frequent extreme weather events. A key takeaway of the study was that we need to keep investing in transportation for the sake of future generations, and the proposals included in GROW AMERICA would allow us to do just that.

The proposed SSO rule reflects the flexible, scalable principles of Safety Management Systems that focus on organization-wide safety policy, proactive hazard identification and risk informed decision-making as part of risk management, safety assurance, and safety promotion (safety training and communications).

Also this week, FTA announced that it will publish a final interim safety certification training program (PDF) designed to enhance the technical competencies and capabilities of individuals responsible for direct safety oversight of rail transit systems at agency, state and federal levels; and of individuals who conduct safety audits of these systems. The interim training program becomes effective ninety days from its publication in the Federal Register. FTA plans to issue a notice of proposed rulemaking to establish the permanent provisions later this year.

Updated: Friday, March 18, 2016
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