New D.C. Metro Chief Announces Safety Program

January 31, 2007

Washington, D.C.’s new general manager for Metro said Monday he plans to launch a major safety education program for workers to “change the culture” of the rail and bus system after a series of recent accidents.

John B. Catoe Jr. also said he was not completely sold on the steep fare increase proposed by his predecessor, telling reporters he would first look for other ways to balance a budget strained by rising fuel, health care and maintenance costs.

Catoe, formerly the deputy chief executive of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, said he wanted Metro to go through a safety overhaul, led by an outside company and similar to a five-year program the Los Angeles system went through. Every employee will be required to go through two days of training and will be empowered to make safety decisions, he said.

“We will make Metro from the worker’s standpoint the safest place in the Washington metropolitan area, and we intend to make it from a customer’s standpoint the safest system in the nation,” he said during his first sit-down meeting with the media since being sworn in Thursday.

Catoe’s initiative follows three accidents in a little more than a year in which four track workers were killed, and a derailment earlier this month that injured 20 passengers.

In Los Angeles, Catoe said officials embarked on the safety program in 2001 because the transit system had the most worker’s compensation payments of any state agency — $64 million a year.

Catoe said Metro would issue a request for proposals in the next week with the aim of starting the program in March. The Los Angeles agency’s program was conducted by DuPont Co. and resulted in a 61 percent decline in employment injuries and a more than 50 percent reduction in workers’ compensation claims, he said.

Catoe said the firm that conducts the program would get no money up front but would earn a percentage of the savings Metro achieves in terms of reduced claims and medical expenses that result from improved safety.

Catoe, 59, took over for Jack Requa, who had moved temporarily into the leader’s post from his regular job as head of bus operations. Before him, Metro was led on an interim basis by Dan Tangherlini, who took over for Richard A. White in February and left to become city administrator. White’s contract was cut short after a term marked by back-to-back fare increases and a surge in train delays and broken escalators and elevators.

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