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FTA State Safety Oversight Update

FTA representatives joined state and public transit agency officials at a June 12 session focusing on one of the most important safety issues facing the industry today: the requirement that any state with a rail transit system must have an FTA-certified State Safety Oversight (SSO) program in place by April 15, 2019.

If a state does not meet the deadline, FTA is required by law to withhold all public transportation funding statewide until the SSO program is certified. The statute does not allow FTA to grant extensions or waivers.

Thirty states are covered by this statutory requirement and 14 have already received FTA certification. Thirteen of the remaining 16 states have submitted applications that are currently under review and the others have completed the prerequisite steps but not yet presented applications.

During the panel discussion, moderated by Gerald Ruggiero, safety manager at Jacobs Engineering Group and chair of APTA’s Safety Coordinating Committee, Patrick Nemons, special assistant and associate administrator of FTA’s Office of Transit Safety and Oversight (TSO), and Kimberly Burtch, director of TSO’s Office of Safety Review, discussed the statutory history, stages of the certification process and assistance available from FTA.

Sheldon Shaw, manager of safety for the Utah Transit Authority (UTA), and Pam Fischhaber, chief of rail and transit safety for the Colorado Public Utility Commission (CoPUC), described their experiences with the certification processes in their respective states.

“We’re recommending SSO program certification applications be submitted no later than Sept. 30, 2018,” said Nemons, “to allow adequate time for review before the compliance deadline of April 15, 2019.”

To help states meet the deadline, FTA has developed an SSO Certification Toolkit that provides guidance about program requirements and offers technical assistance to state safety oversight agencies. Nemons also noted that FTA has been providing funding grants, technical workshops, monthly one-on-one calls, quarterly conference calls and site visits to assist the process.

“Prior to certification, FTA may conduct on-site verification or require states to address any deficiencies,” Burtch said. Regarding post-certification, she explained that the law requires an annual status report and “certification of compliance” as well as at least one on-site review of rail transit agencies every three years.

Shaw offered some “lessons learned” from Utah’s experience in working through the certification process. He said UTA “leaned forward” on safety management systems as far back as 2013. Using measurable goals and objectives, the agency focused attention on determining definitions, rules and procedures pertaining to hazard mitigation and notification of “accidents, incidents and occurrences.”
Panelists at the SSO session, from left: Patrick Nemons, moderator Gerald Ruggiero, Kimberly Burtch, Sheldon Shaw and Pam Fischhaber.

“When an accident or incident occurs, there are numerous people and agencies that need to be notified in an orderly way,” he explained. “Clearly defined roles and cooperation are key.”

Fischhaber noted that “SSO certification is a lot of work” in recounting the process for Colorado. She said pre-certification efforts began in 2013 and included enacting state legislation, conducting a gap analysis, developing a certification work plan, finding sustainable grant match funding and becoming an FTA grantee.

After securing grant matching funds and hiring additional staff support, Fischhaber said, “The real work began!” CoPUC was able to begin drafting its program by fall 2017 and submit its application in February 2018. Colorado received FTA approval on April 6, 2018, less than one year after being awarded an SSO grant.

An SSO agency may use existing federal grant funds for reimbursement of operational and administrative costs incurred during the development of its SSO program. Since 2013, FTA has provided approximately $112.4 million in SSO formula grant funds to help states develop and implement an SSO program that meets federal requirements.

More information about the SSO certification process and FTA assistance is available here.
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