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WMATA, Facing $50M Cut, Urged to Address Safety Issues

Cardin said the NTSB recommendations show the need for full WMATA funding. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski wrapped up her stern letter to the Washington Metro Area Transit Authority, writing, "I call on you to fix it and fix it now," even as the organization faces a multimillion-dollar funding cut from Congress.  

Mikulski released her letter to WMATA Board Chairman Mortimer L. Downey Monday evening after the National Transportation Safety Board urged WMATA to take "immediate action" to address safety issues that led to a Jan. 12 fatal incident at the L'Enfant Plaza Metro stop where passengers were trapped in a smoke-filled tunnel. "I was shocked and deeply dismayed to read the National Transportation Safety Board findings released today," Mikulski wrote. "Time and time again, the NTSB brings us unacceptable reports about Metro’s safety and management."  

As NTSB was investigating the "electrical arcing" incidents that caused smoke in the Metro tunnel, it discovered that a number of power cable connectors were missing "sealing sleeves." The sleeves are designed to ensure that the power cable connectors are not damaged by moisture or other particles, which would increase the possibility of the electrical malfunction.  

"According to discussions with WMATA, it does not have a program to ensure that power cable connector assemblies are installed in accordance with its engineering design specifications," NTSB Chairman Christopher A. Hart wrote in his letter to interim WMATA CEO and general manager Jack Requa.  

Hart recommended that WMATA "promptly develop and implement a program to ensure that all power cable connector assemblies are properly constructed and installed in accordance with your engineering design specifications, including the weather tight seals."  

The latest safety recommendation comes after reports of other arcing incidents in Metro tunnels, all while the House is poised to cut WMATA funding. Some lawmakers say the incidents show the need for more funding for WMATA, not less.  

"This latest recommendation is further evidence of why WMATA needs the full allocation of federal and state matching funds, tied to strong accountability targets, to elevate this 40-year-old system to a modern level of reliability, efficiency and safety," Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md., said in a statement Monday. "The recent threats to Metro’s long-term funding are not helpful as WMATA struggles to maintain the safe operations.”  

This week the House is poised to wrap up consideration of the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (THUD) appropriations bill this week, which includes a $50 million cut to WMATA , amounting to one-third of its typical federal allocation.  

Members of the national capital region delegation tried unsuccessfully to restore funding on the House floor last week.  

“Reducing this funding breaks the 10-year federal commitment and jeopardizes the successful local, state and federal partnership," representatives from Maryland, Virginia and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., said in a joint June 4 statement. "Millions of Americans – not just from the DC region, but from across the nation – depend on Metro, which is why Congress and the federal government have a responsibility to the operation, oversight, and safety of the system."  

Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report. Related: Local Lawmakers Want Metro Funds Restored House Panel Approves Bill to Cut WMATA Funding House Appropriators Face Backlash on WMATA Cuts No New Confidence in Metro After Hearing on L’Enfant Incident Lawmakers Define Oversight Role in L’Enfant Metro Incident Lawmakers Demand Answers About Deadly L’Enfant Metro Incident (Updated) See photos, follies, HOH Hits and Misses and more at Roll Call's new video site. Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.