October 20, 2017
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Panel Examines FTA SSO Best Practices; States Must Complete Approval Process by April 15, 2019

State Safety Oversight (SSO) programs were the focus of intense interest at the 2017 APTA Annual Meeting.

FTA Acting Administrator Jane Williams kicked off the Oct. 11 session on SSOs by emphasizing the April 15, 2019, statutory deadline for states with rail transit systems to have their programs approved and certified by FTA. To date, only Ohio and Minnesota have received FTA approval, while 28 other states still must meet the deadline.

By law, FTA is required to certify whether each state’s program meets federal safety oversight requirements. If a state fails to meet the certification deadline, FTA will be unable to make any new grants within the state, for bus as well as rail.

Williams urged public transit agencies and state governments to act promptly. She also delineated five reasons certification could be denied or delayed: not fulfilling all FTA requirements; factual errors or inconsistencies with FTA requirements; failure to meet interstate certification requirements; state laws that require different certification results; and fraud.

“We want to help everyone to get over the finish line,” Williams said, and she pledged FTA’s help in partnering with transit agencies.

Two public transit leaders from Ohio, the first state to receive SSO certification, shared lessons learned from their experience.

Joseph A. Calabrese, CEO and general manager, Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (RTA), and Brian Kummerer, SSO program manager/safety coordinator, Ohio DOT, Columbus, joined Patrick Nemons, FTA acting director, Office of Safety Review, on a panel moderated by Ronald Edwards, principal and senior system safety and security engineer, ADS System Safety Consulting LLC, Baltimore.

Panelists, from left, Joseph A. Calabrese, Brian Kummerer and Patrick Nemons and FTA Acting Administrator Jane Williams.

Partnerships, trust, integrity and teamwork are key to gaining certification, according to Kummerer. He said the process helped increase safety and reduced the cost of risks for Ohio DOT. “Open CAPs (corrective action plans) are not a bad thing; they are an indicator of a successful safety program … as long as you’re making progress to close CAPs,” he said.

Calabrese told the audience that his agency’s senior leadership team met regularly to review projects, opportunities and outstanding corrective actions. He said RTA’s accelerated corrective action plan closure rate is now 25 percent faster.

“The safety culture message must be consistent at all levels of the agency,” he advised. “Our joint SSO and RTA goal was ‘no surprises’ and that meant open communication and understanding what events need to be reported.”

Nemons explained that FTA’s safety oversight goal is to continue improving and strengthening SSO programs for oversight of rail transit operations. He listed the types of help his agency is providing to states, including $90 million in grants, technical assistance workshops, monthly one-on-one calls and quarterly conference calls, site visits and certifications toolkits.

FTA provides more information about the SSO program, including the certification toolkit, program standard technical assistance guide, the text of the final rule, training and other reference materials, here.
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