Safety standards included in the 2-year federal transportation funding bill got only a little, mostly misleading publicity. Contrary to the publicity, a bill introduced by Sen. Mikulski (D, MD) did not factor materially in the legislation [HR 4348, S 1813, PL 112-141] as passed. [ Ben Nuckols, Associated Press, New law authorizes federal government to regulate urban transit systems, Boston Globe, July 17, 2012, at http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2012/07/16/new_law_feds_to_regulate_urban_transit_systems/ ]

As usual, Sen. Mikulski was looking out mainly for her own constituents with her simplistic bill [S. 562] filed in response to the June 22, 2009, crash on the Washington, DC, Metro Red Line that killed nine people. The Obama administration filed a comprehensive bill in December, 2009, and renewed it for the current 112th Congress. That was reflected in the recent Senate bill, which prevailed in the law as enacted. [ Ann Scott Tyson, NTSB blames 2009 Metro crash on track circuit failures, negligent safety attitude, Washington Post, July 27, 2010, at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/07/27/AR2010072706080.html ]

Federal law now mandates several new efforts toward public transit safety:
* A "national public transportation safety plan" with no requirement for an effective date
* State "public transportation agency safety plans" by one year after the effective date of a federal rule to implement that requirement and involving no specified coordination with the national plan
* State "safety oversight programs," 80-percent federally funded, for "rail fixed guideway" systems

Overall, transit safety requirements in the new law are clumsily drafted, with some obviously incorrect cross-references and no specifics as to the scope of safety measures authorized. In those respects, it is a throwback to the original, hastily assembled Clean Air Act of 1970. Like the latter, it will probably take several years of regulations, litigation and "corrective" laws to make some sense. What a waste!

The "heavy rail" lines of MBTA rapid transit present hazards similar to ones that killed people on the DC Metro and use some of the same equipment. In a pattern that is typical of almost all Massachusetts agencies, MBTA provides hardly any public information about equipment, procedures, hazards, safety upgrades or plans. At present, no reporters for Massachusetts news media appear to have enough knowledge to ask meaningful questions, either.