WASHINGTON — The U.S. Secretary of Transportation Thursday replaced three of four members of the Metro board of directors with individuals who have transportation safety backgrounds to increase the safety culture of Metro.
U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said, “No more excuses” to jurisdictions Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia, which he has been ordering to create a new state level safety oversight agency for Metro.
On Thursday, April 28, Foxx replaced three of the four board members representing the federal government with officials currently or previously involved in transportation safety. The reason for the replacement was to push the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority board of directors to pick up the pace to creating a new state-level safety oversight agency in Metro.
Two new members Carol Carmody, former vice chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, and David Strickland, former administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, will have voting authority on the board as principal directors. Robert Lauby, chief safety officer of the Federal Railroad Administration, will be an alternate director along with existing alternate director Tony Costa.
Mort Downey, Harriet Tregoning and Anthony Giancola will stop serving the board when the new members start June 1, according to a news release from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Downey, a voting federal board member, said the replacement comes at a good time for him. He added that he’s 79 and served on the board for six years.
Downey said he was confident Foxx selected the right people to address concerns about safety at Metro.
“I’ve known all of them for years,” said Downey, who was the U.S. Deputy Secretary of Transportation from 1993 to 2001.
FTA spokesperson Steven Kulm said Carmody and Strickland have backgrounds in aviation safety and highway safety, respectively, but not necessarily in subway safety. In the same way, Lauby’s current job at the Federal Railway Administration pertains to freight trains and not subway trains. Though each departing board member’s experience may have been applicable to public transit and planning, Foxx chose board members based on safety, his No. 1 priority, said Kulm.
Foxx said the board needs to have a sharp focus in order to hold WMATA accountable to its responsibility of being a safe transit agency.
“Building a safety culture is not easy and requires relentless focus at every level,” said Foxx. “These three new Federal members will build on our promise to bring a laser-like focus on making the transit system of our nation’s capital as safe as possible.”
Acting administrator of FTA Carolyn Flowers said the FTA is doing a sufficient job in safety oversight of Metro but pointed out the fact that FTA’s role as a state-level oversight agency is supposed to be temporary. She said it was the board’s role to direct address safety and infrastructure of WMATA.
“The WMATA board plays a crucial role in setting the direction for the agency as it strives to address infrastructure challenges and establish a robust safety culture,” said Flowers. “The temporary FTA WMATA Safety Oversight Office is on the job, but we are eager to see the local jurisdictions take responsibility and set up a permanent safety oversight agency.”
Foxx was sure to acknowledge that the three departing board of directors members added to the board while they were each a part.
“All three of the outgoing board members Mort Downey, Harriet Tregoning, and Anthony Giancola have provided excellent service on the WMATA board, and we thank them for bringing such great commitment to guiding WMATA through serious and complicated issues over the last few years,” said Foxx.
Downey was board chairman in 2015, the year Metro spent 10 months searching for a new general manager.
Thursday’s replacement came two weeks after Congressman John Delaney (D-6) proposed in a House Committee that the board members are experts in either transit, management or finance. A staff member of Delaney said the transportation secretary’s appointees meet Delaney’s qualifications outlined in the bill filed Thursday.
According to a Federal Transit Administration spokesperson, the FTA has been monitoring WMATA safety for years. However, the federal agency took over the role of the state level safety oversight agency in October because the one formed with representatives from the three jurisdictions, Virginia, Maryland the District of Columbia, was not federally compliant and was not independent of Metro
Downey said he does not have a concrete plan for what his job will be next, but he said he wants to continue working in transportation as a consultant, either pro bono or for a paid position. Downey probably won’t actively seek positions.
“Most people (will) know I’m available,” said Downey.
He plans to spend Friday and the weekend with his grandchildren.