U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx rejected a National Transportation Safety Bureau recommendation to put Metrorail safety under the oversight of the Federal Railroad Administration, opting instead to transfer oversight from the Tri-State Oversight Committee (TOC) to the Federal Transit Administration.
"We agree that the TOC, as currently established, is ineffective," Foxx wrote in a letter to NTSB Chairman Christopher Hart. "We disagree, however, that the best, most urgent and most effective solution is to transfer safety oversight of WMATA's rail transit system to the Federal Railroad Administration."
Federal Transit Administration officials could intervene when safety concerns arise on Metro. Day-to-day operations would continue under Metro, a state-level agency.
The move means Metro will become the first U.S. subway system placed under direct federal supervision.
The FTA will directly enforce and investigate Metro's safety oversight, Foxx said. The effort will include unannounced inspections.
Metro has to "immediately hire a capable general manager, who is able to correct the course at the transit agency,” Foxx said.
"We will continue to work closely with FTA to improve safety of the WMATA system and are fully engaged in implementing corrective actions recently approved by the agency," Metro interim General Manager Jack Requa said in a statement. "We appreciate Secretary Foxx’s continued support and his leadership on safety oversight."
While the Federal Railroad Administration oversees commuter rail lines, such as the Virginia Railway Express, it does not oversee subway systems.
Managers drew a direct relationship between the system's reliability struggles and falling ridership, which dropped 5 percent over the past five years.
"We have obviously had our troubles in providing reliable service, and I think people think about that when they know they have to go from point A to point B and they need to be there at a specific time," Requa said.
Metro has faced criticism and rider backlash over the past several years regarding at-times unreliable service, breakdowns and smoke in tunnels.
In January, a woman died and more than 80 were sickened after a Metro train became stranded in a smoky tunnel outside the L'Enfant Plaza station. Metro said it attempted to get the stuck train back to a platform, but couldn't due to electrical malfunctions.