DC: Mikulski says Metro Showing Substantial Improvement

One of Metros toughest critics said Wednesday that the transit agency, plagued by safety missteps and leadership problems, has started to show substantial improvement as the agency nears the two- year anniversary of a deadly train crash.

We know there is much to be done, Sen. , Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., said at a roundtable with regional Democratic legislators and Metro officials. I think what we see now is the will.

In December 2009, the senator had slammed Metro in the wake of the June 22, 2009, Fort Totten crash that killed nine and injured dozens more, saying the agency had been showing a pattern of laxity, passivity and lip service. Mikulski then called for an audit of the systems safety culture by the Federal Transit Administration and a report on how the agency was run by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

The agency had a culture of cover-up of the problems and denial of the problems, she reiterated Wednesday. And this is changing.

She particularly praised one anecdote offered Wednesday by Metros General Manager Richard Sarles.

Last Friday about a dozen track workers showed up at Sarles office without an appointment to ask him to reinstate a worker who had been fired for a safety violation on the tracks. The man had not followed rules to protect workers when a rail maintenance vehicle was moving. Sarles said they had a discussion and he explained that he didnt want to attend any of their funerals.

Mikulski said the fact that they felt comfortable enough to approach him and discuss safety even if they didnt like his response shows a change at an agency. Last year workers had told FTA officials that they feared retaliation if they spoke up about safety problems.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., noted that Metro is still having problems getting across the safety message, though, as train operators keep running red signals in rail yards and track workers have ended up on active tracks.

While youre working very hard, we still need to get the word out, he said.

kweir@washingtonexaminer.com

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