State Safety Oversight
Program Background and Overview
In 1996, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) issued the Rail Fixed Guideway Systems, State Safety Oversight rule 49 CFR 659. Under this rule, each state with rail fixed guideway systems that are not subject to the regulatory authority of the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is responsible for overseeing the safety and security program implementation of these rail fixed guideway systems. As one of the impacted states, Virginia was required to designate an agency to oversee the safety and security of its rail fixed guideway system within its jurisdiction. In the Commonwealth of Virginia, the designated Rail State Safety Oversight Agency (SSOA) is the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT). The rail fixed guideway systems covered by this regulation and overseen by DRPT include Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) TIDE Light Rail System and Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) Metrorail.
A new rule issued in March 2016 - 49 CFR 674 - significantly strengthens states’ authorities to prevent and mitigate accidents and incidents on rail fixed guideway systems by providing the necessary enforcement authority, legal independence, and financial and human resources for overseeing the number, size, and complexity of rail transit systems within their jurisdictions.
On April 6, 2018, the FTA certified DRPT as the State Safety Oversight Agency under the new regulation 49 CFR Part 674.
Commonwealth of Virginia: Authority for State Safety Oversight
The General Assembly amended § 33.2-285.16 of the Code of Virginia designating DRPT as the State Safety Oversight Agency responsible for rail transit safety oversight in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
State Safety Oversight Philosophy
DRPT’s rail state safety oversight activities are intended to be a proactive safeguard to preserve safety considerations in all decision-making, practices and programs at the rail transit agency; and to maintain safety as the first priority above operational expediency. In practical terms, the SSOA has to persistently validate that the rail system is carrying out its documented programs designed to ensure the safety of its passengers and its employees. DRPT’s rail state safety oversight efforts are conducted with full transparency to HRT. All of DRPT’s rail state safety oversight actions, including those that denote various deficiencies at HRT, are communicated openly with the goal of improving HRT’s rail safety posture, and not to assign fault. HRT’s Safety and Security Department is the custodian of HRT’s safety program. However, the entire HRT organization is empowered and responsible for upholding its safety goals, including its senior executives, its middle managers, supervisors and its front line personnel.
The DRPT rail state safety oversight program activities are described in the Safety and Security Program Standard (SSPS). This document describes DRPT’s program and DRPT’s procedures in conducting a federally compliant rail state safety oversight program. This is a dynamic document that is reviewed annually and updated to reflect enhancements in our practice. This document and the practices it represents are subject to FTA review.
While states are required to comply with the minimum requirements mandated by the regulation, states also have the prerogative to scale its program to meet the unique characteristics and challenges within the rail system(s) it oversees.
Key Program Activities
- Regular work sessions with HRT rail safety, security, operations and maintenance personnel
- Conducting audits and special assessments of HRT’s light rail operations
- Review and approval of primary HRT rail safety, security, and emergency preparedness plans
- Review, approval and adoption of HRT rail investigations of accidents, incidents, and hazards
- Tracking and field verification of HRT’s progress in correcting safety and security gaps on its light rail system
DRPT’s rail state safety oversight responsibilities are performed by a team of three full time DRPT staff. There is one dedicated Rail State Safety Oversight Manager performing safety oversight for each of the rail fixed guideway systems in the Commonwealth of Virginia with programmatic decision-making and supervisory tasks being performed by the Rail Transit Safety Programs Administrator. The DRPT rail state safety oversight team reports directly to the agency Director, Jennifer Mitchell.
The DRPT Rail State Safety Oversight Manager for HRT’s TIDE Light Rail is fully trained in all of the currently mandated certifications and training. One of the changes enacted through the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) and 49 CFR 674, was a more standardized approach to certification and training of designated state personnel who conduct rail safety audits and examinations with direct rail safety oversight responsibility. With the new regulations enacted through MAP-21, there is a greater regulatory emphasis on rail state safety oversight staff having certain certifications and competencies as well as a specific knowledge base of the rail system they oversee.
DRPT’s rail state safety oversight capacities are further augmented through a team of consultants, including subject matter experts in the fields of train signaling, civil engineering, track and structures, rail vehicles and rail operations. These consultant resources can be leveraged in the event that staff resources need to be augmented for a finite period or if DRPT would benefit from the subject matter expertise on a particular issue.
Transit Rail Safety and Emergency Management Administrator
Department of Rail and Public Transportation
Since the passage of MAP-21, the United States Department of Transportation (USDOT) and the FTA have provided a dedicated source of funding, based on the complexity and operational characteristics of the rail system, to states with rail state safety oversight responsibilities. These FTA funds can be utilized for rail state safety oversight staff salaries, to complete FTA mandated training, for consultant services, and for the purchase of equipment.