WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has notified the 30 states where rail transit systems operate that federal law requires they establish an FTA-certified State Safety Oversight (SSO) Program by April 15, 2019. If a state fails to obtain certification for its SSO Program by the deadline, FTA is prohibited by federal transportation law from obligating any funds to public transportation agencies throughout that state until certification is achieved.
When FTA’s SSO Program final rule took effect in April 2016, it established a three-year timeframe for states to obtain certification for their SSO Programs. With the certification deadline less than two years away, FTA is encouraging states to act quickly to enact any necessary legislation, statutes and regulations, particularly those states whose legislatures meet only part-time or biennially. Currently, there are nine states remaining that still require legislative action at the state level prior to FTA certification.
“The affected states should act to establish an FTA-certified SSO Program that is compliant with federal law and provides the highest level of safety for their rail transit riders and workers,” said FTA Executive Director Matthew Welbes. “States need to realize timely action is critical. By law, the April 2019 deadline cannot be waived or extended, and the FTA cannot obligate federal transit funds to transit agencies within the state without a certified SSO Program after that date.”
Public transportation is among the safest forms of surface transportation, but there are important ways in which it can become safer. The SSO Program final rule requires a strengthened SSO Program for oversight of rail transit operations, and provides greater authority for SSO Agencies to oversee the implementation of transit agencies’ safety plans. By getting certified, an SSO Program will demonstrate that it has the authority, resources, and expertise it needs to oversee the rail transit systems in its state.
The FTA is committed to seeing that states meet their federal statutory obligations to provide stronger and more effective safety oversight of their rail transit systems. To help states meet the April 2019 deadline, FTA is providing a toolkit with guidance for managing the SSO Program certification process, and maintaining frequent contact with states and SSO agencies to provide assistance. In addition, FTA posted a status table online that shows each state’s progress toward FTA certification of its SSO Program and the approximate amount of transit funds that FTA would be prohibited from obligating should the state fail to achieve FTA certification by the deadline.
Since 2013, FTA has provided approximately $90 million in SSO formula grant funds to all 30 affected states to help them develop and implement an SSO Program that meets federal requirements.
In order to achieve FTA certification, an SSO Program must meet several federal statutory requirements, including that the designated SSO agency tasked with performing safety oversight has financial and legal independence from the rail transit agencies it oversees. In addition, a state must ensure that its SSO agency adopts and enforces relevant federal and state safety laws, has investigatory authority, and has appropriate financial and human resources for the number, size and complexity of the rail transit systems within its jurisdiction. Furthermore, SSO agency personnel responsible for performing safety oversight activities must have proper training and certification.
FTA strongly recommends that states submit their SSO Program certification applications by April 15, 2018. Furthermore, states should not assume that applications submitted after September 30, 2018 will receive a decision on certification by April 15, 2019. In some cases, the FTA may need to do onsite verifications, or states may need to correct and resubmit parts of their applications. All of these activities must be completed before the deadline.