O’Ban: Create bipartisan State Transportation Oversight Panel to prevent future rail tragedies

OLYMPIA… Sen. Steve O’Ban, R-West Pierce County, supported by DuPont Mayor, Michael Courts, announced Thursday his plan to introduce legislation to create a bipartisan state entity, which would provide oversight over future rail projects – oversight that might have prevented the 2017 Amtrak derailment in the City of DuPont and that claimed three lives, injured many others and endangered surrounding communities.

The entity would also review major safety issues regarding non-rail transportation projects and corridors.

O’Ban, a member of the Senate Transportation Committee, represents the legislative district in which the derailment occurred.

The State Transportation Oversight Panel (STOP) would be comprised of the chairs and ranking members of the Senate and House transportation committees. It would be supported by non-partisan committee staff and by caucus policy counsels from both transportation committees. And, unlike the current Joint Transportation Committee, it would be managed by a chairperson who is non-voting and does not hold office.

“It’s important that any group charged with making sure that these projects are given fair critical review be a group that is equally divided along partisan lines – a balance that promotes cooperation. Three out of four votes are needed which ensures that all reviews have bipartisan consensus. Transportation safety shouldn’t be a partisan issue,” said O’Ban.

“This was the genius of the structure the people created when they enacted Washington State’s Redistricting Commission, which has proven to be the very best in the country at forging fair results because of the intrinsic cooperation on which it relies.”

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), in this week’s hearing on the DuPont derailment, outlined several recommendations for Sound Transit, Washington State Department of Transportation and Amtrak, all of which it said should have made safety, not a rush to commence train operation, their top priority. O’Ban’s plan would require those involved to provide reports to the newly created STOP detailing how they have implemented the NTSB recommendations. And it would require them to submit future risk assessments, plans and reports to STOP so that someone is in a position to make sure all the pieces fit together before projects like the Pt. Defiance Bypass proceed.

“Amtrak and Sound Transit want to resume service on the Pt. Defiance Bypass. That should not be allowed to happen until the state takes a much closer look at how they have addressed safety concerns. Since we can’t pass legislation until the 2020 legislative session, I call on the proposed legislative members of the new panel to convene it immediately, hold hearings, and co-sponsor the legislation when I introduce it this fall,” said O’Ban.

“Although ultimately, human error caused the derailment, the NTSB made clear the engineer was set up for failure by the combined incompetence of Sound Transit, WSDOT and Amtrak.,” said O’Ban. “Passengers and the communities in my district through which this service will travel are entitled to certitude that the NTSB’s recommended steps have been taken. And the people should be able to feel confident that someone is looking out for their interests.”

State Transportation Oversight Panel

Intent

  • In response to the mounting transportation-related disasters in Washington, it is the intent of the State Transportation Oversight Panel to provide legislative oversight to the safety certification process of all transportation providers and related organizations operating in the state. Examples of these types of disasters include the 2017 Point Defiance Bypass derailment, the 2015 Steilacoom derailment, the 2015 Ride the Ducks collision, and the 2013 Skagit River Bridge collapse.
  • STOP further intends to coordinate the safety related analysis performed by all applicable entities to ensure potential hazard gaps are revealed.
  • The overall goal is to create a more comprehensive system of review for transportation safety analysis and certifications, in order to preempt any potential for new transportation-related disasters.

Mission

  • Promote the greatest level of safety achievable for Washington’s transportation system and its users.
  • Prevent any future transportation disasters through oversight of the safety certification processes of all transportation providers and related organizations operating in the state.

Duties

  • Maintain consistent oversight and review of Washington transportation providers and their safety and hazard analysis.
  • Ensure the requisite safety analysis is performed by all agencies, associations, and entities before a mode of transportation is fully authorized.
  • Coordinate and evaluate the different safety analyses performed by all relevant organizations.
  • Review, investigate and make recommendations following transportation-related disasters that occur in Washington, and certify compliance with such recommendations and authorize resumption of service.

Structure

  • The two chairs of the Legislature’s transportation committees as voting members.
  • The two ranking members of the Legislature’s transportation committees as voting members.
  • Non-partisan chair as the fifth, non-voting member, selected by a simple majority of the voting members.
  • Staff:
    • Non-partisan Transportation committee staff;
    • Caucus policy counsels from both transportation committees.
  • Authority to hire experts to advise the panel.