Actions to Establish and Finance State Safety Oversight Agency

2/7/2013

[PDF version of letter]

Dear Colleague:

The new surface transportation authorization statute, the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), represents a fundamental shift in the way States and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) will work together to ensure the safety of public transportation riders across the Nation. The rail safety provisions of the new statute apply to every State that has a rail fixed guideway public transportation system already in operation, or in engineering or construction, which is not subject to regulation by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). In brief, MAP-21 directs that:

I write today to provide you notice of the actions each State must take to establish and finance its SSOA, as required by the statute. This letter follows one sent by Secretary LaHood to each of your Governors on August 28, 2012, enclosed for your reference.

First, every State must establish an SSOA that is legally and financially independent of the rail transit systems the SSOA will oversee. Every State must also strengthen its SSOA by ensuring that the State agency has adequate authority and resources to review and approve the rail transit systems' safety plans, and to oversee, through investigations and enforcement, the safety of those rail transit systems. I recognize that, in years past, a number of SSOAs have depended upon subsidization from the same rail transit agencies they are obliged to oversee. Every State with an SSOA should begin to make plans to discontinue this practice as soon as possible. In the near future, FTA will initiate a rulemaking to set new standards for State Safety Oversight programs, including standards for financial independence.

Please know that this rulemaking will be conducted strictly in accordance with our procedures for public notice and comment, and I encourage you to engage fully in this process.

Until final rules are issued, however, no State or any other agency should deprive an SSOA of the funds it needs to ensure the safety of public transportation. Moreover, while they work to strengthen their programs, those SSOAs in compliance with the State Safety Oversight regulations at 49 C.F.R. Part 659 may use their current State Safety Oversight Plans (SSOPs) as a basis for seeking an FTA determination that their SSOPs are adequate, for purposes of the October 1, 2013, deadline for the certification process established by MAP-21, now codified at 49 U.S.C. § 5329(e)(7).

Additionally, MAP-21 provides a new and stable Federal funding source to enable States to meet these requirements, including funding to hire and train the staff necessary to execute these new responsibilities. Under MAP-21, a percentage of the Section 5307 Urbanized Area formula funds will be available to eligible States for their State Safety Oversight programs. Further, the statute allows FTA to issue grants for up to 80 percent of the reasonable costs of a State Safety Oversight program. Every State will be expected to use these funds to strengthen their SSOA and to position them to comply with the requirements of MAP-21. Again, as requested in Secretary LaHood's letter, every State should now be making financial arrangements to secure the matching funds necessary for receipt of the Section 5307 formula funds.

As soon as Congress passes a Fiscal Year 2013 appropriations act for the U.S. Department of Transportation, we will allocate Federal funds to eligible States in accordance with the MAP-21 statutory formula. The FTA apportionment notice will stipulate the specific information States must provide to receive funding. When applying for funds, each State will be required to submit a preliminary plan with strategies for achieving a clear and workable transition to meeting the MAP-21 statutory requirements as listed above. FTA will review these plans and make grants that support each State's transitional and existing SSOA activities.

As you move toward the goal of developing stronger SSOAs and State Safety Oversight programs for public transportation, please know that FTA will be your partner. The riders of our Nation's rail transit systems depend on all of us, the States, the SSOAs, the rail transit operators, and FTA to do everything possible to ensure their safety.

Sincerely yours, Peter Rogoff