Urban Transit Systems Now Subject to Federal Safety Regulations

President Obama signed into law a bill that allows the Federal Transportation Department to withhold funding from any urban transit system that doesn't make mandated safety improvements. The law, which will also establish safety standards for subway, bus, light rail and streetcar systems brings these transit tools under federal regulation for the first time since 1964.

The bill was introduced in 2009 after a deadly accident in Washington D.C.'s metro subway system killed nine people and injured over 80 other passengers. In that incident, a moving train collided with one that was stopped ahead of it at the height of rush hour on June 22. An investigation into the cause of that incident revealed that train signals were not reliably reporting when sections of track were occupied by other trains.

The new transportation bill was signed into law on July 6 amidst bi-partisan support. "This will mean lives saved," said Deputy Transportation Secretary John Porcari. Senator Barbara Mikulski, who first introduced the legislation, said, "We have rules and regulations for buses in interstate commerce, for airplanes that get off the ground, but not for subway systems. The subway system moves 800,000 people a day and there's not one federal regulation mandated to look out for it."

Now that the law has been passed, all that will change. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will help craft the new safety standards; among other goals, the agency plans to demand a minimum standard of crash-worthiness for subway cars, a requirement for subways to carry data-recorders and a limit on the number of hours a subway-train conductor can work.

There is not yet a deadline for the new standards to be finalized, but beginning in October 2013, state transit agencies will begin receiving notices about mandatory federal safety upgrades.

While the law applies to all urban transit systems across the country, the Washington D.C. Metro system is a particular target. In addition to the tragic 2009 accident, the aging subway system has experienced numerous problems recently, including doors opening while trains were in motion, a derailment and computer crashes which forced the suspension of all train operations for several hours.

At Arnold & Itkin, our personal injury attorneys support increased safety regulations for urban transit systems. With increased regulation comes increased liability for the safety of light rail, bus and subway passengers who experience injuries due to safety lapses on these transportation networks.

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