WASHINGTON – Four rail transit agencies agreed on one perpetual issue that prohibits them from updating their aging systems.
They all want more funding for a federal program designed to modernize rail transit systems across the United States.
Officials from New Jersey,Atlanta,Chicago and Washington testified Tuesday before a subcommittee of the Senate Banking,Housing and Urban Affairs Committee about rail safety deficiencies.
An Obama administration official also testified that a report about unifying safety regulations among various transit agencies should be released after August.
Congress has examined the issue since the June 22 Washington Metro accident that killed nine people and injured 80 when a moving train crashed into a stationary train. The National Transportation Safety Board has suggested changes to the Washington Metro,including an overhaul of the automated system designed to detect where all trains are.
“Our needs go beyond a spring cleaning,” said John Catoe Jr.,general manager for the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority.
He said Metro needs to replace more than a quarter of its fleet,including rail cars that are more than 30 years old. Other renovations include repairing tunnels and platforms and upgrading tracks.
Few senators attended the entire hearing,but Sen. Robert Menedez,D-N.J.,the subcommittee chair,said safety needs to be addressed,adding lack of money is not an excuse.
Carole Brown,chairwoman of the Chicago Transit Authority Board,said the federal program designed to address safety deficiencies and modernize the CTA rail system is underfunded by $6.8 billion.
The CTA needs $1.2 billion to repair and replace its rail car fleet,28 percent of which is at least 32 year old.
“We are in dire need of modernization,” Brown said.
Brown said that if funding remains stagnant,CTA would cut services and operations,which would result in a smaller transit system.
Beverly Scott,general manager of the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority,said the Atlanta transit system is younger than the others but is also in need of repairs because of increasing rider demand.
She said the need for better funding for safety and modernization is an industry-wide priority.
Catoe said the federal program lacks sufficient funds to address safety concerns because the amount needed for repairs is growing more rapidly than the money available.
Peter Rogoff,administrator of the Federal Transit Administration,said transit agencies use various criteria to identify safety deficiencies,which makes federal programs ineffective.
“It's hard to define,precisely,what the strategic goal of it is because you have seven different tiers of funding,” Rogoff said.
Another reason transit agencies have deteriorated is the failure of state and local governments to fund them properly,he said.
“We want to do something about the mandated level of effort on the part of state and local governments,” Rogoff said.