- The Washington Times - Monday, January 29, 2007

Metro’s new general manager said yesterday that he plans to kick off a major safety initiative to “change the culture” of the rail and bus system after a series of recent accidents.

John B. Catoe Jr. also said he was not completely sold on the steep fare increase proposed by his predecessor, telling reporters that he would first look for other ways to balance a budget strained by rising fuel, health care and maintenance costs.

Mr. Catoe, formerly the deputy chief executive officer of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, said he wanted Metro to go through a safety overhaul, led by an outside company and similar to a five-year program the Los Angeles system went through.

Metro’s safety practices will be thoroughly analyzed, and every employee will be required to go through two days of training and will be authorized to make safety decisions, he said.

“We will make Metro from the worker’s standpoint the safest place in the Washington metropolitan area, and we intend to make it from a customer’s standpoint the safest system in the nation,” he said during his first sit-down meeting with the press since being sworn in Thursday.

Mr. Catoe’s initiative comes after three accidents in a little more than a year in which four track workers were killed, and a derailment earlier this month that injured 20 passengers.

In Los Angeles, Mr. Catoe said, officials embarked on the safety program in 2001 because the transit system had the most workers’ compensation payments of any state agency — $64 million a year.

Mr. Catoe said Metro would issue a request for proposals in the next week with the aim of starting the program in March. The Los Angeles agency’s program was conducted by DuPont Co. and resulted in a 61 percent decline in employment injuries and a more than 50 percent reduction in workers’ compensation claims, he said.

Mr. Catoe said the firm that conducts the program would get no money upfront but would earn a percentage of the savings Metro achieves in terms of reduced claims and medical expenses that result from improved safety.

Meanwhile, Mr. Catoe took a step back from the proposed fare increase presented to the board in December. The increase would vary depending on the time of day and the stations used, and would add up to $2.10 to the current fare.

“I can assure you … before I go back to the board and discuss fare increases, I want to make sure Metro is as lean as possible,” he said. “I am not saying we will not recommend one; I’m just not there yet.”

Mr. Catoe also said he would require all the members of the executive management team to use the system in their daily commutes at least some of the time. He has pledged to use it all the time.

Mr. Catoe took over from temporary heads Jack Requa and Dan Tangherlini, now the city administrator, who took over from Richard A. White in February.

Mr. White’s contract was cut short after a term marked by back-to-back fare increases and a surge in train delays and broken escalators and elevators.

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