Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation

What Does an SSO Agency Do?

The goal of the FTA Rule 49 CFR Part 659 is to provide an independent, transparent agency that ensures RTAs give full attention to safety in all of its activities relating to rail operations including the following: design of train cars, tracks and stations, train operations, signage, emergency response, railroad worker safety, maintenance of stations, tracks, facilities and rail cars, signals, communications, workforce training, accident investigations, pro-active safety initiatives and more.  While the RTA has to meet certain standards set forth by its SSO Agency, the transit system retains discretion on how it meets these standards.  The SSO managers confirm that the RTA is in compliance any of these requirements.  

The two main documents required to meet the safety standards set forth by the FTA are the SSO’s System Safety Program Standard (SSPS) and the RTA’s System Safety Program Plan (SSPP).  The SSPS is a standard developed and adopted by the SSO Agency which, at a minimum, complies with the FTAGuidelines.  The SSPP is a document developed by the RTA describing its safety policies, objectives, responsibilities, and procedures. 

If an incident or accident occurs on a rail transit system, the SSO has the following options: conduct its own investigation, delegating the investigation to a consultant on its behalf, or delegating the investigation to the RTA while still overseeing the proper conduct of the investigation.  The SSO will review and adopt the investigation as its own and also monitor corrective actions that the RTA implements to prevent the reoccurrence of a similar accident in the future.  The SSO also monitors other hazards which meet certain FTA criteria by requiring the RTAs to develop corrective action plans to address safety deficiencies, and approving the corrective action plans after a review process. 

The SSO Agency also conducts regular audits to assess if the RTA is meeting its own SSPP including conducting its internal accident investigations, addressing maintenance concerns, conducting hazard identification programs, training of its staff and frontline employees, procurement practices and so forth.

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