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Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton

Representing the District of Columbia

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Norton Calls for Congressional Hearing on Federal Government’s Unprecedented Shutdown Plan for Metro

Aug 7, 2018
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Ranking Member of the Highways and Transit Subcommittee, today released her letter calling for a congressional hearing on the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) plan to shut down the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) Metrorail system in the event of a major public threat to safety.  The Federal Transit Administration’s internal document outlining the shutdown of Metro was never shared with WMATA or even the Metrorail Safety Commission (MSC), the agency that will eventually assume oversight of WMATA, and only made public after The Washington Post obtained the plan through a Freedom of Information Act request.

In her letter to Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) and Ranking Member Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Highways and Transit Subcommittee Chairman Sam Graves (R-OK), Norton wrote, “A plan with such sweeping implications for the nation’s capital and the national capital region, dominated by the federal government, should not be a secret, particularly from the top officials responsible for Metro and top local and regional officers.…Notwithstanding the need for confidentiality regarding elements of the plan related to national security, it is irresponsible not to allow WMATA and MSC some access to the plan if a takeover is to proceed smoothly.  Without a public hearing, we cannot know how much of the plan should be made public, why it has been known only to federal officials within DOT or whether details should also be shared with the committee and the general public where appropriate.  Holding a hearing on a federally mandated shutdown of Metrorail would allow Congress to obtain critical information on the federal government’s plan and ensure that key stakeholders in the operation of our region’s Metrorail system are sufficiently informed and have an opportunity to be heard on this important subject.”

Norton’s full letter is below.

The Honorable Bill Shuster
Chairman
House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee
2079 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515

The Honorable Peter J. DeFazio
Ranking Member
House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee
2134 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515

The Honorable Sam Graves                            
Chairman
House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Highways and Transit
1135 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Chairmen Schuster and Graves and Ranking Member DeFazio:

The public only recently learned of a plan to shut down the entire Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) Metrorail system in the event of a major threat to public safety.  This plan was never made available to the public or even shared with officials outside of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), including top Metro officials.  A plan with such sweeping implications for the nation’s capital and the national capital region, dominated by the federal government, should not be a secret, particularly from the top officials responsible for Metro and top local and regional officers.  I write to ask that the committee or the subcommittee hold a hearing on the federal government’s shutdown plan for Metrorail.

Apparently, under the federal government’s plan, a serious safety event rising to the level of a “substantial risk,” as determined by federal safety officials, could set in motion a series of events featuring involvement from the National Security Council, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, ultimately resulting in an indefinite suspension of Metrorail operations.  Such an outcome could create a significant disruption in travel for nearly 700,000 residents in the District of Columbia, millions of regional residents, as well as federal employees in the region who commute using Metrorail and are indispensable to the operation of the federal government, including its security.  The Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) internal document outlining the mechanics of a federally mandated shutdown of WMATA has existed since December of 2016, but was never shared with WMATA or the Metrorail Safety Commission (MSC), the agency that would eventually assume oversight of WMATA.  Without The Washington Post’s recent investigation and publication, the plan would have been a surprise to Metro officials.  The shutdown plan is currently active and would remain active even after the MSC took over safety oversight of Metro.  Yet, the MSC has never seen the plan.  The Post obtained the document through a Freedom of Information Act Request.

Notwithstanding the need for confidentiality regarding elements of the plan related to national security, it is irresponsible not to allow WMATA and MSC some access to the plan if a takeover is to proceed smoothly.  Without a public hearing, we cannot know how much of the plan should be made public, why it has been known only to federal officials within DOT or whether details should also be shared with the committee and the general public where appropriate.  Holding a hearing on a federally mandated shutdown of Metrorail would allow Congress to obtain critical information on the federal government’s plan and ensure that key stakeholders in the operation of our region’s Metrorail system are sufficiently informed and have an opportunity to be heard on this important subject.  If the point is to make the plan as effective as possible, top stakeholders almost surely have useful contributions.

            Thank you for your consideration.  I look forward to working with you.

Sincerely,

Eleanor Holmes Norton

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