FTA’s Oversight of WMATA’s Safety

By Peter DePaolis

The Federal Transit Authority (FTA) instilled a plan for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) known as the Corrective Action Plan (CAP). This CAP monitors WMATA’s progress for creating and correcting issues identified by the FTA to improve safety for passengers of public transportation as well as the workers in public transit.

You can watch the FTA’s monitoring program on their website, and the table provided shows all changes approved by the FTA, those that are past due, and those currently under review. You can also review the safety directive that discusses the findings of the Safety Management Inspection of the WMATA Metrorail and Metrobus systems along with the changes that must be implemented for compliance.

Has Safety Really Improved for Washington, D.C.?

Federal officials did take an unprecedented step by taking over the safety changes of WMATA. While more than a year has passed since their oversight began, some observers are now questioning if the FTA’s oversight has done much – if anything – to improve safety.

FTA has threatened WMATA with system shutdowns, but the Metro repairs and maintenance of their tracks seem to be unchanged. Chronic problems are still appearing in the Metro system:

  • Daily disruptions that delay riders from reaching their destinations
  • Dangerous lapses in safety protocol, including speeding trains that have nearly struck workers in tunnels and some riders

The oversight, while at first promising, seems not to make the process of correcting hazardous conditions any faster or more efficient. In fact, the transportation authority has already ignored one key recommendation by the National Transportation Safety Board, which many observers feel is a flawed decision. The oversight was given to the FTA, but many feel it would have been more suitable for the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to take on the task.

While Metro’s new leadership has shown that they are willing to make changes for passenger safety, many feel that this willingness is not translating into action.

When Injuries Happen on Public Transit

Injuries happen on mass transit more than we realize. While you might be aware of the catastrophic accidents that make the news – such as a train collision or derailment – incidents happen on the roadways too.

People rely heavily on public transportation to get to work, school, shopping, medical appointments, and social activities.

According to WMATA’s own 2017 fact sheet, 45 percent of employees in Arlington County and Washington use public transportation. Public transportation is not just the Metro trains but includes everything from ferry systems to subways to buses and even trolleys.

FTA most likely got involved in the safety concerns of WMATA because state and federal governments closely regulate these carriers. The laws require that public transportation hold a higher duty of care to passengers, and these laws are strictly enforced.

The Duties of Public Transportation Carriers

  • Ensuring entries and exits are safe for passengers – including adequate lighting and no tripping or falling hazards
  • Establishing a security system to ensure the health and safety of passengers is considered
  • Hiring only qualified personnel to operate vehicles associated with the public transportation service
  • Maintaining all units used in public transportation
  • Monitoring and repairing any flaws or known defects in vehicles used for public transportation

Why Do Public Transportation Injuries and Accidents Happen?

Public transit sees numerous accidents each year, and the causes are often the same.

Common reasons for these accidents include:

  • Collisions – Collisions with other vehicles, public transportation services, and solid objects are common reasons for injuries in transit each year. These can result from the transit authority’s driver negligence or a motorist’s negligence when sharing the road. Often, negligence includes failing to obey or observe traffic signals, falling asleep, drunken or drugged driving, speeding, or other reckless driving behaviors.
  • Slip and Fall Injuries – Sometimes there is no collision necessary for someone to suffer a serious injury. Whether it is a slippery deck to a subway, faulty stairs into the train, or broken railings, slip, trip and fall injuries are quite common in public transit.
  • Criminal Acts – Other times, the cause of injuries come from another person. Public transportation is required to have security personnel on staff to protect their passengers, such as security guards present in subways to prevent physical assaults or robbery.

What Injuries are Common?

Injuries in a public transit accident will vary in severity and type, depending on the crash itself. Regardless of the accident, if you were injured in a public transit incident and you feel that someone’s negligence was to blame, you may be entitled to compensation.

Some injuries commonly compensated include whiplash, broken bones, lacerations, back or neck injuries, herniated disks, scars, traumatic brain injuries, and fatalities.

Are Public Transit Authorities Immune from Lawsuits?

State and federal governments typically provide public transportation, such as a city offering city bus or train services. Injury claims against these government entities are not impossible. They require special types of lawsuits filed under the Tort Claims Act.

Because each state has their laws and regulations, it is vital that you speak with an attorney about the laws governing how claims are brought against municipalities, state, or federal government in your area.

Speak with an Injury Attorney about Your Public Transportation Accident

If you have been injured, speak with an attorney from Koonz McKenney Johnson & DePaolis LLP today.

We can help you determine if you qualify for compensation and explore your options. Do not wait for the FTA to ensure public transportation is safe. Instead, work with an attorney that has experience handling these types of cases and gets results.

Schedule a consultation at one of our three office locations or contact us online to get started.

About the Author
Peter DePaolis joined the firm in 1980 and has since represented a large number of individuals involved in automobile collisions, truck accidents, bus crashes, defective products, and medical malpractice cases. A significant portion of Mr. DePaolis’ practice is devoted to working on behalf of people suffering from asbestosis, mesothelioma, and other asbestos-related cancers. He has led his firm’s fight against the asbestos industry and has recovered over $30 million in damages for asbestos victims and their families.