Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation

State Safety Oversight

undefinedProgram 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 system covered by this regulation and overseen by DRPT is Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) TIDE Light Rail System in Norfolk, VA. An interstate compact was enacted on August 22, 2017, creating the Washington Metrorail Safety Commission (WMSC). Effective March 18, 2019, the WMSC is the designated State Safety Oversight Agency for WMATA Metrorail, as certified by FTA. The District of Columbia, the State of Maryland and the Commonwealth of Virginia (led by DRPT officials) worked diligently to support the mobilization and certification activities of the WMSC. With the certification of the WMSC, the previous oversight entity, the Tri-State Oversight Committee, officially dissolved in June 2019.

Hampton Roads Transit’s TIDE: Report a Safety Issue

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.

FTA Certification Letter to DRPT

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
Activities include:

  • 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

The Transit Rail Safety and Emergency Management Administrator administers DRPT’s state safety oversight program and reports directly to the DRPT Director. All programmatic decision making and supervisory tasks are performed by the Transit Rail Safety and Emergency Management Administrator with the support of contracted consultant staff. The contracted consultants include subject matter experts in the fields of train signaling, civil engineering, track and structures, rail vehicles, and rail operations. These consultant resources are fully trained and certified to conduct the full range of program activities and responsibilities outlined in the SPSS. 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.

The Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), published July 6, 2012, and 49 C.F.R. Part 674 directed FTA to establish a more comprehensive and standardized certification and training program for designated state personnel who conduct rail safety reviews and examinations with direct rail safety oversight responsibility. These regulations place greater emphasis on state safety oversight staff obtaining certain certifications and competencies as well as a specific knowledge base of the rail system they oversee. The DRPT Transit Rail Safety and Emergency Management Administrator is fully trained in all of the mandated certifications and training specified by the above-mentioned regulations.

Andrew Ennis
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.

Program Documents

Annual Reports on Rail Fixed Guideway State Safety Oversight Program Performance in the Commonwealth
2021 Report
2020 Report
2019 Report
2018 Report
2017 Report 
2016 Report 

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