- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Four U.S. senators have told the chairman of the Washington area’s subway system — the second largest in the country — that the recent string of accidents is unacceptable and direct federal intervention is possible if he fails to promptly fix the problems.

“As senators charged with overseeing federal transit policy, we write to express our concern regarding the safety record of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s Metrorail system,” said the letter from Sens. Christopher J. Dodd, Connecticut Democrat; Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat; Richard Shelby, Alabama Republican; and David Vitter, Louisiana Republican.

The letter follows a Feb. 12 derailment of a subway train, which the lawmakers described as the most recent accident in a “troubling pattern” of safety incidents involving the Metrorail system.

There have been 17 deaths within the Metrorail system in seven incidents over the past five years.

Nine people were were killed and 80 injured in the agency’s most deadly accident — a June 2009 crash in which one train struck another from behind. Five Metrorail employees working on the tracks have been killed in the past year.

“Such a pattern cannot be viewed as a string of isolated accidents,” says the letter to Metro Chairman Peter Benjamin. “Rather, it is clear that there is an institutional failure on the part of WMATA. If these failures cannot be addressed immediately and comprehensively, then we believe that the federal government should consider all possible options to ensure the safety of the Metrorail system, including direct federal intervention.”

The lawmakers also said they wanted the agency to tell them about long- and short-term plans for ensuring “riders can once again feel safe and secure using the Metrorail system.”

Metro spokespeople said the agency plans to meet with the senators to explain how it is trying to improve safety.

The letter was sent Monday, the day before the National Transportation Safety Board holds three days of hearings into the June 22 crash.

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