Feds Finally Seize Control of D.C.’s Metrorail System.


2015 has been a tough year for the people who ride the D.C. mass transit system. The subway system has suffered three separate serious safety failures this year.

  • In January one passenger died and dozens were hospitalized when electrical arcing caused smoke to fill a metro car departing the busy L’Enfant Plaza station.
  • In August a soon-to-be-boarded Metro train car derailed between the Federal Triangle and Smithsonian stations causing major delays system wide.
  • In September a transformer caught fire at the Stadium Armory metro  station which forced officials to close a station on the eve of Pope Francis’ arrival in DC, delaying riders on three of the system’s six train lines.

All three incidents represent dangerous failures throughout the system which have put the riders at risk.

In a positive and surprisingly aggressive move the oversight of safety and maintenance of D.C.’s transit system has just been shifted to the federal government. On October 9th the U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx transferred the enforcement and investigation of safety oversight to the Federal Transit Administration, which is part of the Department of Transportation. I support moving D.C.’s metrorail system safety to more capable hands.

The Washington Metrorail system, known as WMATA is the second largest transit system in the country but the first U.S. subway system to be moved under direct federal oversight for safety reasons. (Aratani, L. 2015) This federal seizure is a clear indicator that WMATA’s own safety oversight is failing abysmally. The oversight transfer is both welcome and overdue.


The gravity of the Metrorail safety problems are compounded by the difficulties that my fellow commuters face daily in Washington D.C.


According to Forbes Magazine in August, the city has the most congested traffic in the country.

“Those traveling within the nation’s capital experienced around 82 hours of delay per commuter as of last year, nearly double the national average (Gorzelany, J. 2015)

As a result of the heavy vehicular traffic and long commutes many Washingtonians must rely on the Metrorail system for transportation as an alternative to driving.


WMATA has long been criticized for poor or non-existent maintenance of the system.


Paralyzed escalators, few elevators, broken fare card machines, single tracking, delays and long waits are comments frequently posted about on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Screen Shot 2015-11-14 at 11.38.29 AM Screen Shot 2015-11-14 at 11.39.47 AM

Maintenance problems are often the forerunner to DC’s Metrorail safety problems.

In a city that values independence more than most, the conversion to federal oversight was a move met by surprising local support. “Usually I want the fed gov’t to stay out of #DC politics,” wrote @novalsi on Twitter before applauding the “long overdue” federal oversight. “You know #wmata is screwed up when a possible Fed takeover is viewed as an upgrade over the current situation,” wrote @NatsBandwagon. (Dvorak, P. 2015)


In June the Federal Transit Administration report noted 44 official findings of problems with Metro’s rail system. The FTA reports that Metro doesn’t do enough track maintenance, only manages to squeeze in two hours of work during overnight repair sessions, that fans that ventilate the subway tunnels don’t always work and that critical components on the train and the track aren’t cleaned regularly. (Smith, M. 2015)

Amid growing rider concern, WMATA has been slow to respond to customer complaints and safety issues. The WMATA website, accessed on November 12 and available by clicking here is a microcosm of just that and demonstrates another glaring need for federal oversight. The website states:

“These steps complement the many safety and security practices that we have followed for years. Examples of such practices include:

  • conducting daily inspections of our equipment and facilities,
  • ensuring that our employees are knowledgeable about safety procedures, and
  • testing and acquiring the latest safety technology.

These efforts have established Metro as a national leader in transit system safety.” (www.wmata.com)

The reference to “years of daily inspection” and to being a “national leader in transit system safety” belies the reality of safety and maintenance issues that the FTA documents.

Their own website notwithstanding, WMATA has failed with it’s own safety and maintenance controls. In the words of Secretary Foxx, moving the safety controls to the D.O.T. means “surprise inspections, specified deadlines for making safety fixes and a potential loss of funding for failure to comply.” (Arantani, L. 2015)


Like @novalsi I’m not a fan of federal control but this is a good albeit unprecedented step toward rebuilding safety, confidence and ridership. I am in favor of this transfer to federal oversight because the residents of D.C. deserve a safe, reliable subway system. In a multi jurisdictional system like D.C.’s Metrorail, no single entity save the Department of Transportation will be able to successfully investigate and enforce. I also support the immediate oversight transition because problems as seen in the video below must be corrected quickly and permanently for the safety of this community.



  • Safety Board Urges Federal Oversight OverDC Metro. RollCall.com Available by clicking here.
  • Feds issue scathing Metro Safety Report. WTOP Radio. Available by clicking here.
  • House Approves Fed Control Of D.C. Metro. The Washington Examiner. Available by clicking here.
  • U.S. Secretary of Transportation transfers Metro safety oversight to FTA. WTOP Radio. Available by clicking here.



How did I incorporate course content into my article? The authors of our course textbook Blur show us the value of a multiplicity of sources in helping consumers to form educated and informed opinions. (Kovach, B. & Rosenstiel, T. 2010) While writing my article and researching all available material I discovered the value and import of non-traditionally published opinions on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. The most illustrative video of all, which really drove the point of the article home was a YouTube video, shot by a rider. The new media options change and improve the way that we can produce content today.

What responsibilities do I owe my readers as a producer of original content? Honesty, integrity, transparency and a willingness to do the necessary due diligence in writing my article rather than just spewing my own unsubstantiated opinion. The process made me a smarter content producer.

How did I incorporate ethical writing practices in to my writing? The fact that our project rubric stipulated that we have and share an opinion forced the kind of transparency in to the article that is often missing in contemporary reporting. I think too that using the Ocononee County Observations website as a guide allowed me a more clear view of blogging as legit reporting.

How did I verify the sources of information I used?  Aside from my own personal ridership and observations, I was able to use locally trusted and respected sources including journalists from The Washington Post, the highly regarded award-winning local talk radio station WTOP, and Fortune Magazine. The course content reiterated the value of reliable sourcing and not just random things pulled up in a Google search.

What steps did I take to demonstrate my reliability? I would like to think that good clear writing, backed up by a multiplicity of sources and presented in a fairly professional manner speak to my reliability. And again, the fact that I was required to disclose my opinion takes the level of reliability up because of my own transparency.

How did my chosen evidence/resources lend credibility to my article? The ease with which I could find high levels of dissatisfaction across the social media channels should support my credibility and I think the clincher was the use of WMATA’s own website.



Aratani, L & Duggan, P. (October 9, 2015) Federal Officials Will Assume Responsibilityfor Metro Safety. The Washington Post. Retrieved from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/trafficandcommuting/federal-officials-will-assume-responsibility-for-metro-safety/2015/10/09/8fe4cae6-6eca-11e5-aa5b-f78a98956699_story.html

Bowman, B. & Mejdrich, K. (Sept. 2015) Safety Board Urges Federal Oversight OverDC Metro. RollCall.com Retrieved from:http://blogs.rollcall.com/hill-blotter/safety-board-urges-federal-oversight-over-dc-metro/

Chew, J. (August, 2015) U.S. Cities With The Worst Traffic Jams. Forbes/Autos. Retrieved from: http://fortune.com/2015/08/26/worst-traffic/

Dvorak, P. (October 2015) Angry Metro Riders Overjoyed At More Oversight. Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpos.com/local/angry-metro-riders-overjoyed-at-more-oversight-hell-yeah-bring-in-the-feds/2015/10/01/c434c6a6-6822-11e5-9223-70cb36460919_story.html

Kovach, B., and Rosenstiel, T. (2010). Where Did This Come From? Blur. pp. 76 – 78. New York: Bloomsbury

MILLS, C. (Nov 2015)  House Approves Fed Control Of D.C. Metro. The Washington Examiner.Retrieved from: http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/house-approves-fed-control-of-d.c.-metro/article/2575684

Safety and Security FAQ. (undated) WMATA.com.retrieved from:http://www.wmata.com/getting_around/safety_security/safetyfaq.cfm

Smith, M. (June 2015) Feds issue scathing Metro Safety Report. WTOP Radio. Retrieved from: http://wtop.com/sprawl-crawl/2015/06/feds-issue-scathing-metro-safety-report/

U.S. Secretary of Transportation transfers Metro safety oversight to FTA (Oct. 2015) Retrieved from:http://wtop.com/dc/2015/10/u-s-secretary-of-transportation-transfers-metro-safety-oversight-to-fta/



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