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Metro GM Richard Sarles' testimony at Congressional hearing about safety

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Metro General Manager Richard Sarles read the following testimony Friday before a Congress subcommittee about the transit agency’s safety policies and procedures.

"Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Davis, and members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to testify today. I am Richard Sarles, General Manager and Chief Executive Officer of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, known as WMATA or Metro. Accompanying me today is Metro Transit Police Department, Chief Michael Taborn.

Overview of Metro

I will begin by providing a short overview of Metro for those members who are not familiar with the system or are new to the Committee.

WMATA was created in 1967 through an Interstate Compact between the Commonwealth of Virginia, the State of Maryland, and the District of Columbia, and approved by the U.S. Congress. WMATA operates the second largest rail system and the sixth largest bus system in the United States.

Metro is critical to the economic vitality of the National Capitol region providing 1.2 million trips a day, much of it to carry customers to and from work. 2
Americans throughout the nation depend on the system when visiting the capital--attending large national events, such as the Cherry Blossom Festival and Presidential Inaugurations. This unique role is why Metro is often referred to as "America's Subway". When your constituents visit Capitol Hill, Metrorail provides safe and affordable transportation to see our Nation's Capitol and visit your office.

Metro is also a critical Homeland Security asset and has demonstrated multiple times how important the system is in a time of crisis, such as evacuation for weather events and national emergencies like 9/11. The system is at the center of regional evacuation plans.

More than half of Metrorail stations serve federal facilities and approximately 40 percent of Metro's peak period customers are federal employees. In particular, the Metro system is vitally important in providing transportation for federal employees to our defense agencies, such as the Pentagon and Department of Homeland Security.

On a daily basis the Metrorail and bus system are estimated to remove over 500,000 automobiles from the region's congested roads and highways, recently ranked the second most congested in the country.

Metro also serves as a key driver of the economy, supporting both private and public sector employment and has spurred over $37 billion in economic development at or adjacent to Metro property.

Security

Let me now turn to the reason for the hearing today - addressing security preparedness of the Metrorail system.

On June 4, 1976, President Ford signed into law a bill passed by Congress authorizing the establishment of the Metro Transit Police Department (MTPD).

The MTPD is the only tri-jurisdictional police department in the United States, operating in the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Virginia and the State of Maryland. The Department has an authorized strength of 450 sworn officers, 153 special police officers, 13 emergency management personnel and 35 civilian personnel. MTPD police officers have law enforcement jurisdiction and arrest powers throughout a 1,500 square mile Transit Zone, and have jurisdiction for crimes that occur in or against Metrobus, Metrorail and all Transit Authority facilities. Uniformed and plainclothes officers ride Metrobuses and patrol Metrorail trains, stations, and parking lots.

Washington Metro is by design an "open" transit system. The majority of mass transit systems in the United States are open systems and most transit properties take a layered approach to protecting customers, employees and safeguarding infrastructure.

A critical tool needed to support our security program is an up-to-date threat and vulnerability assessment. Generally, a threat and vulnerability assessment is conducted every one to three years, as threats and tactics used by terrorists constantly change. The threat assessment helps us adjust our response and improve our ability to combat criminal and potential terrorist activity.

An additional tool we utilize to prioritize our resources is the safety and security audits done by the Tri-State Oversight Committee (TOC) and Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

The MTPD continually monitors changing crime trends, explores innovative ways to deploy officers and utilizes technology and environmental design to deter crime in the Transit Zone. Recent international events have underscored the necessity of increased vigilance to protect transit riders, employees and infrastructure against terrorist attacks. There are a finite number of men and women patrolling the Metrobus and Metrorail systems at any given moment. Deployment resources vary and are often dependent upon the day of the week, and even the time of day. For continued safety and security, it is imperative that we develop strategies to effectively address terrorist threats and combat criminal activity in collaboration with local, state and Federal partners within the National Capital Region. 

Along with regional partnerships, the MTPD actively participates with safety and security police chiefs and directors from the nation's 60 largest transit agencies in planning and roundtable events to discuss key counter-terrorism and safety decisions pertaining to the protection of transit passengers, personnel, and infrastructure. Chief Taborn has been asked to participate as a subject matter expert in a joint task force, sponsored by the TSA, to evaluate training requirements in compliance with Section 1408 of the Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007, which identifies specific security training elements for transportation front-line employees.

Metro's approach to protect our riders involves a partnership between employees, customers, the transit police, other public safety departments in the region, and the federal government. It's a strategic approach that merges the application of technology with enhanced operational awareness, and puts an emphasis on training, public awareness outreach efforts, emergency preparedness efforts, and the use of various security assessments that take into consideration the unique designs of our transit system.

The Metro Transit Police Department (MTPD) collaborates with over forty (40) federal, state and local law enforcement agencies within the National Capital Region (NCR). Through the Washington Council of Governments (COG) Police Chiefs Committee, the MTPD meets regularly to address current and emerging law enforcement issues and trends and to exchange information and ideas about the delivery of public safety. Further, the committee facilitates appropriate dialogue to enhance regional security and anti-terrorism efforts and plans for safe and effective transportation of millions of passengers to national level events such as the Inauguration of the President of the United States, July 4th Fireworks, National Cherry Blossom Festival, Marine Corps Marathon and sports and entertainment events.

To help coordinate law enforcement efforts with our Federal partners, a representative of the MTPD is assigned to the FBI Local Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF), thereby keeping our MTPD up-to-date with security related information within the National Capital Region. The MTPD also has a member assigned to the National Joint Terrorism Task Force (NJTTF), who gathers information on a national level and shares it directly with the Chief of Police. Additionally, an officer is assigned to the Washington Regional Threat and Analysis Center (WRTAC) providing daily information to the entire department on breaking incidents, officer safety concerns, and other critical information.

The Metro Transit Police have taken aggressive steps to combat the threat of terrorism and have partnered with Federal agencies such as the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to assimilate national-level security efforts into WMATA security enhancements. Officers use a variety of high visibility uniform patrol techniques, technology, equipment and national security initiatives to assist in preventing terrorism.

WMATA's Security Inspection Program (SIP) was launched in December 2010, and employs tactics also used in transportation environments to effectively prevent terrorist activity. Security screenings are part of our continued commitment to ensuring the safety and well-being of our customers and employees, a commitment that requires a continuously changing law enforcement posture and deployment of best practices. The SIP program is modeled after successful programs currently in use by other transit properties across the United States, including those in New Jersey, New York City, and Boston that use modern scanning technology and non-intrusive screenings. Carry-on items are generally not opened and physically inspected unless the initial screening indicates a need for further inspection.

The amount of time the actual screening takes is very brief and allows customers to move through the screening point very quickly. The purpose of the screening is to detect any explosive material and prevent it from being brought into the Metro system.

In 2009, WMATA's Anti-Terrorism Team (ATT) was created through the Transit Security Grant Program (TSGP). The team is composed of 20 sworn police officers who provide high visibility patrols focused on protecting transportation patrons and employees. The ATT teams work closely with Federal Air Marshals and the TSA to develop new strategies and techniques for combating acts of terror. Team deployment objectives include: identification of system vulnerabilities, high visibility patrol, surveillance and/or counter-surveillance operations, and investigation of suspicious activities, persons or packages. Through the grant program funding, ATT members participate in national training germane to the detection and disruption of terrorism threats.

The Authority has made great strides in the utilization of technology to harden WMATA's infrastructure. Physical security enhancements include lighting, fencing, access control, intrusion detection systems, bollards and guard booths at rail and bus facilities. Camera systems are installed inside rail stations and buses and at various locations protecting infrastructure such as bridges, tunnel portals, and underwater crossings. Other technologies in current use are radiological pagers, license plate readers, and bomb resistant trash cans. Federal grants have supported many of the past, present and future efforts to harden and improve existing infrastructure and obtain capital related assets to combat terrorism in the bus and rail system during in a very challenging budget period at Metro.

The Program Response Options and Technology Enhancement for Chemical Terrorism (PROTECT) system is capable of detecting selected groups of chemical warfare agents (CWA) within a pre-determined threshold at Metro Stations. Simply put, PROTECT and its command and control software offers information to chemical incident operational disciplines to make more informed response decisions. PROTECT information alerts the transit authority that an attack has occurred, directs them to Standard Operating Procedures, allows them to make life-saving decisions and to alert fire, police and other WMATA departments. A unique PROTECT feature is the interface of an activated sensor with pan, tilt, zoom CCTV which allows our Rail Operations Control Center (ROCC) supervisors to confirm the release of chemical weapons by immediately viewing human actions (reactions), which speeds the decision making process, thus saving time and thereby saving lives. Incident Commanders know what chemical is detected, its release site(s), its concentration and its predicted above and below ground spread.

Metro currently has 7078 closed circuit cameras; 5,576 associated with the bus fleet, 1,111 dedicated to the rail system, and 391 monitoring WMATA's other infrastructure. Of the 7078 cameras, 5,754 are operational (81.3%). MTPD has begun the process of identifying the locations of non-operational cameras as a first step in improving CCTV capabilities throughout the system. Homeland security grant funds have been received to purchase new cameras, focused on the entrances of each of the 86 Metro stations. Also, the new 7000 series rail cars will come equipped with built in cameras enabling the first CCTV capability inside rail cars.

MTPD officers monitor radios for incident dispatches and are able to be the eyes of the MTPD prior to the arrival of units on the ground. Even when crime victims are unable to provide a description of a suspect or the direction of the suspect's flight, officers assigned to this unit are specially trained to be able to give better look-out information to responding units as well as information on suspect movements that has been instrumental in combating crime in the system. WMATA is in the process of assessing current video capabilities, identifying improvements to camera functionality and image quality, video retention time and system integration.

On any given day, WMATA patrons hear a variety of safety and security related messages including announcements by the MTPD Chief of Police, and by Department of Homeland Security's Secretary Janet Napolitano, whose announcement seeks the assistance of transit riders in identifying suspicious persons or packages in the nationally recognized, "If You See Something, Say Something" campaign. Transit riders also witness high visibility patrol efforts, such as Blue TIDE (Terrorism Identification and Deterrence Effort), an initiative developed by MTPD to raise awareness and remind the public to report any suspicious behavior to the police. Officers from various agencies participate and distribute to customers crime tips on how to protect themselves and their property while traveling in the Metro system. Another collaboration effort, Operation RAILSAFE (Regional Alliance Including Local, State and Federal Effort), enhances security particularly around holidays along the Northeast Corridor with national and international participation.

Since 2006, Congress has appropriated approximately $1.6 billion in Transit Security Grant Program (TSGP) funds to help local transit authorities, such as Metro, to train personnel, participate in exercises, raise public awareness, protect critical infrastructure, and otherwise improve the security of transit systems. Security of mass transit and passenger rail systems largely falls to local authorities. Since the program was authorized in section 1406 of the 9/11 Act, TSGP funding has become the primary mechanism used by the Federal government to help Metro cover the costs associated with critical transit security programs and projects.

To date (FY06-FY10 grant cycles), Metro has received a total of $108,645,901 in TSGP funds and has expended approximately $23,983,707 (22.1%). The remaining funds are fully obligated against ongoing security projects. The following is a list of reasons why the dollars take a significant time to expend:
• Significant Time to Award Grants from DHS - For FY06 through FY08 grant cycles, an average of 16 ½ months had expired within the projects' period of performance prior to even receiving a direct award/sub grant from DHS. Such lengthy time frames have caused projects to require a redesign and re-approval due to significant changes in the technology being utilized within this timeframe.

• Significant timeframes for with Environmental Planning and Historical Preservation (EHP) Approval - Federal environmental and historic preservation laws and Executive Orders provide the basis and direction for the implementation of federal environmental and historic preservation review requirements for grant funded projects. Prior to beginning a project, an EHP must be performed by WMATA and submitted to FEMA for approval. FEMA's approval process has taken upwards to 10 months. During this waiting period, there may be changes within the design of a project. Even the slightest change within the design will force Metro to resubmit for re-approval. Failure to comply with these laws could result denial of reimbursement.

• DHS' Dual Management Process - Responsibility for administering TSGP funding has changed numerous times within DHS since 2003.

• Timeframes associated with Resource Constraints - During periods of waiting for grant awards, resources and staff have to be diverted to other projects. When funds finally arrive there may not be sufficient staff to complete the projects in the allotted timeframe.

DHS and TSA grants provide MTPD with funding to address the potential threats our officers deal with everyday. Within the last six months alone, Metro Transit Police has received over 339 calls for service involving a suspicious person, package, bomb threat or similar event. Within 2010 Metro Transit Police responded to approximately 59,700 calls for service. To identify trends or hot spots where criminal activity is occurring, MTPD adopted and formulated MetroStat. MetroStat is similar to CompStat that is used by many large city police departments. Based on the information we receive through MetroStat, police resources are redeployed and reallocated. Our public education campaign and new crime prevention tips displayed in the metro system provide customers with information about steps they can take to ensure their safety. Finally, we have added signage within the bus and rail system on how to contact the MTPD in an emergency.

When I appeared before the Oversight and Government Reform Committee last year, I reported on our progress against our six month plan to move Metro forward to improve safety, service reliability, and our financial stability. Today I want to update you on our continued progress.

Safety

Safety is our first priority at Metro. My number one goal since I was hired first as interim general manager and for the past five months, in my permanent role as CEO has been to assure that every employee at Metro puts safety first. We have undertaken a $5 billion, 6-year capital program to improve safety and reliability for our customers and move the system to a critically needed state of good repair.

Over the last 12 months, we have closed more than 100 corrective action items identified by the National Transportation Safety Board, the Federal Transit Administration Audit, Internal Safety Audits, Tri-State Oversight Committee, Office of the Inspector General audits and VTX report on escalators and elevators status.

We have ordered and will begin to take delivery of new rails cars in 2013 to replace the 1000 series cars involved in the Fort Totten accident. The new cars, which are being built in Lincoln, Nebraska, will have state of the art crash worthiness protection.

Among our milestones of the last year, we have installed 148 of 178 total guarded #8 turnouts on the Metrorail system and we are on schedule to complete the remaining 30 by mid-2012.

In 2010 we completed the installation of rollback protection on all of our 1000 series rail cars. Our 2000 and 3000 series cars have also received rollback protection as part of their rehabilitation. We have been working on our 4000 series cars and expect to complete the installation by August of this year.

To enhance the safety of our Metrobus system and to provide an additional training tool, WMATA installed the DriveCam system in our entire bus fleet in the latter half of 2010. This system records 12 seconds of video and audio when the bus is found to be out of parameters, which are pre-set. This two-camera system clearly shows activity in front of the bus and the actions of the bus operator. In the event of hard braking, moving too fast through a turn or being hit or hitting an object, a DriveCam clip is initiated. These clips are reviewed by DriveCam staff and returned to the direct supervisor within 24 hours. The clips are an excellent tool to assist in defending the actions of operators to avoid situations and to assist in coaching operators in better driving techniques.

We are working to fix our escalators and elevators, which is important for both customer service and safety. We have 588 escalators on the system, many over 30 years old (which is the life span of an escalator if properly maintained) made by various companies, some of which are no longer in business, making parts difficult to obtain. Since the beginning of 2011, on average 14% of our escalators were not running - over half were turned off intentionally to modernize, inspect and make them 15
safe. As part of our rebuilding program, Metro is investing $148 million to rehabilitate and replace 153 escalators.

We are taking advantage of improvements in technology and developed the Safety Measurement System (SMS), which is a web-based tool to allow for communication of safety-related information and tracking across departments.

Our rebuilding program dedicates the first one billion dollars of our capital program to NTSB recommended safety work. These crucial investments are not only making an immediate difference to our current riders, but going forward they will also provide needed support for the Dulles extension.

Washington Metro is only a two track system, which requires us to temporarily shut down stations or "single" track through our stations in order to get all the work needed done in a timely manner. Last week, I announced that we are changing our approach to scheduled construction outages to both accelerate our project schedules - which will allow us to complete NTSB work sooner and minimize the inconvenience to our customers - especially during weekend travel.

Training

Another critical component of our safety initiatives is training. We have strengthened our safety department - In April 2010 the WMATA Board of Directors hired James Dougherty as Chief Safety Officer, reporting directly to me. Since joining Metro, he has strengthened the safety team by increasing the safety staff by 27 positions for a total of 59. The Safety Department is staffed by highly skilled individuals with diverse backgrounds and over 230 years of safety experience. We have hired expert transportation safety professionals, along with rail operations and emergency management professionals, with decades of experience. We developed a new Roadway Worker Protection manual based on industry best practices. In fact, although Metro is not subject to Federal Railroad Administration regulation, we based the program on that standard, and we are proud that our program has been recognized as a model for the Transit industry. I am pleased to report that more than 4,200 Metro employees have received RWP training, including our track workers, train operators, inspectors - virtually everyone in the rail operations and construction area - including me and Chief Taborn.

However, safety requires constant vigilance, and training will continue for new hires and contractors, and be refreshed for current employees.

Safety Culture

Safety culture improvements are sometimes hard to define, because culture change is the result of the cumulative impact of many actions, and it takes place gradually.

We have undertaken multiple initiatives that show a shift in the way Metro is embracing safety - from our new Board Safety Committee, and its policies and engagement -- to our Memorandum of Understanding and close work with the Tri-17 State Oversight Committee, to our 15 safety officers who have gotten out of their offices and into the field to establish a true partnership with our rail operations personnel.

Tangible evidence of a new safety culture includes the development of new System Safety Program Plan that guides procedures at Metro to ensure we are fully compliant with all FTA and OSHA regulations.

It includes the actions of the local safety committees, area safety committees, departmental safety committees, and the executive safety committee - all of which have been established to address worker safety concerns and advance a safety first culture. Tangible evidence includes the positive feedback from employees about the Lessons Learned circular we distribute to alert employees regarding potential safety hazards. It includes the Champions of Safety employee recognition program that highlights safety success. And it includes the Vital Signs report we put in place to monitor safety metrics and improve transparency.

We have established a safety hotline and safety email address through which employees are encouraged to report safety concerns, anonymously if desired. Also, the Metro Board approved Metro's revised whistleblower protection policy to encourage employees to raise safety-related concerns.

We have also started working with our largest Union, Local 689, to develop a non-punitive program to report near misses.

Service Reliability

The quality of our customers' experience is the key to the continued success of our system. We are taking steps to improve the on-time performance of all of our modes -- Metrorail, Metrobus, and MetroAccess - and as I mentioned earlier, the availability of our elevators and escalators which have a very direct impact on the quality of our customers' trips.

We have also refocused on the service we directly provide customers. In May, 2010 Metro implemented a new biennial recertification process for station managers. The two-day curriculum, with practical and written exams, includes elements such as dealing with difficult customers, emergency response training, first aid and CPR. We have also implemented revised 30-, 60-, and 90-day training performance reviews for newly certified train operators and station managers to ensure that they are meeting our standards for safe operations and customer service and to provide us with an on-going source of review regarding the effectiveness of our training programs.

New performance measurement tools have been developed, including web-based dashboards, a monthly vital signs report of key performance indicators, and an annual performance report to assess what is working well, what is not, and why. The first Vital Signs Report was presented to the Board on June 10, 2010 and monthly reports are posted on the internet to foster increased accountability and transparency.

For Metrobus the delivery of 148 new buses was completed earlier this year, including 48 funded by Stimulus funds. Currently, 152 additional buses are on order, of which 11 have arrived, and all are expected before the end of 2011. Each new bus replaces a bus that has been in service for a minimum of 15 years and has operated over 550,000 miles. With this aggressive replacement program, the rehabilitation of 100 buses per year and a high priority on regular maintenance programs, the bus fleet's Mean Distance between Failures has increased 27% in FY 2011 over FY 2010 to where a bus averages 7,661 miles between breakdowns.

We have also reorganized our bus transportation division, retrained operators and supervisors, and increased supervision of street operations to better monitor and address service reliability issues. We have implemented NextBus, which provides customers with real-time bus arrival information by phone or online, and have created a new on-line service disruption notification for bus customers.

For MetroAccess drivers, we have successfully implemented a new interactive training curriculum that has yielded greater consistency across the workforce in terms of mastery of defensive driving principles and policy knowledge. Promotional campaigns have heightened driver awareness to safety hazards, which has led to improved overall safety performance. Also, MetroAccess road supervisors have completed coursework in accident investigation techniques provided by Metro's safety department.

Financial Stability

Our FY 12 budget approved yesterday by our Board of Directors focuses on the rebuilding our 35-year old system from the inside and out. WMATA has launched the largest Capital improvement program since original construction - as I mentioned earlier, $5 billion over six years with the first $1 billion dedicated to addressing critical safety recommendations of the National Transportation Safety Board, our highest priority.

Accordingly, our multi-year capital program properly focuses on advancing more than 100 projects to rehabilitate and improve today's infrastructure and equipment.

While doing more, we are simultaneously becoming more resource efficient.

Over the last three years, Metro has implemented $165 Million in business efficiencies through consolidations, suspending non-essential programs and automating certain functions. And in FY 12, through additional contributions from all three jurisdictional partners, we have closed our budget shortfall, without another fare increase or significant services changes.

Conclusion

In closing, let me tell you why I am particularly pleased to be before the Committee today. This Committee has played a key role in helping to rebuild Metro. 21

In 2008, lead by the former Chairman of this Committee, Tom Davis, Congress passed a 10-year, $1.5 billion dollar authorization, the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act (PRIIA) to address the capital needs of the WMATA system. The annual $150 million appropriation is the funding commitment Congress made in PRIIA, as the federal partner, matched by WMATA's jurisdictional partners Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia for a total of $300 million a year. The funding represents nearly 40% of WMATA's critical capital budget needed to maintain a safe and reliable system used by Americans from all over our country.

Every day at Metro we are making progress, but we have a long way to go. However, with the continued support of our customers, our jurisdictional partners and Congress, we will get there."

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