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Chairman Reed and Members of the subcommittee, good afternoon, and thank you for asking me to testify on the important subject of Transit Safety in the Wake of September 11. I am Richard White, and I am proud to serve as General Manager of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) here in the National Capital Region.
The events of September 11 have affected all aspects of national life. Daily and routine events like business trips, vacation travel and commuting have been changed forever. Although WMATA handled its mission well on that tragic day, we now face altered expectations, especially from our federal customer base. Safety and security are of concern for each of the 1.1 million daily trips on the system, and it is our obligation to continue to ensure that Metrorail and Metrobus operations provide our customers safe passage, so the important work of the National Capital Region can continue.
Before responding to your questions regarding safety, I would like to acknowledge the extraordinary efforts of our New York and New Jersey colleagues. They were heroes in their communities. Earlier this week I attended the annual meeting of the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) and heard firsthand some of the courageous and brave acts performed by transit employees, acts which saved thousands of lives that otherwise would have been lost in the subway tunnels that ran underneath the World Trade Center complex. In those and other systems across the nation, America's transit customers were safeguarded on that sad day. And, Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee, I believe that WMATA and transit systems across the country will play an even greater role in our national defense and national security in the months and years ahead.
On September 11, when WMATA was needed most, and in the midst of regional chaos, Metrorail and Metrobus were ready, and delivered for the National Capital Region. We operated the equivalent of back-to-back rush hours virtually without incident, after the federal government and other regional employers sent hundreds of thousands of workers home around mid-morning. We were operating the entire day. We did what we do best. We moved large numbers of people safely and efficiently.
Throughout the day, the WMATA workforce performed extraordinarily. Not once did an employee put their own individual concerns ahead of their sense of duty to the customers. The transit police, the bus and rail operators, the station personnel, the customer service representatives -- everyone -- demonstrated their dedication to our mission of moving people safely and securely.
Further, we never lost communications throughout the day. We established and maintained contact with local, state, and federal authorities, and we communicated with our riders through in-system messages, our phone system and over the internet through the website.
WMATA, blessedly, suffered no property damage, no loss of life, and no injury to any of its employees nor to any of our customers on that terrible day.
I would be happy to provide you with specific details on our actions that day, but now I would like to address the important safety questions raised in your invitation letter.
The most significant issue facing WMATA is adapting to the post- September 11 reality that our freedom of mobility has been challenged. Security is paramount in the minds of our riders. WMATA is considered one of the safest transit systems in the country, but we are always reviewing ways to meet the obligation of providing greater security for the riders of the region's public transportation. Currently, WMATA does annual counter-terrorism training for police and operations personnel, does explosive device training, provides bomb containment trash cans, participates in numerous interagency disaster-related drills, has 1,400 cameras monitoring the rail system and participates in the testing of emergency technology. WMATA is partnering with the scientific community and the federal government in an ongoing program for chemical and biological protection. For security reasons I cannot discuss the details of this program, but chemical sensors have been installed and are being tested in the system as part of the effort to protect customers, first-line emergency responders and employees. The intent is to share the results of the program with the transit industry in this country and around the world.
In addition, WMATA has identified a number of enhancements to current security. These enhancements, at a projected cost of approximately $20 million, will allow the recording of security-related incidents, will enhance the intrusion-monitoring capability in Metrorail, will add technology at rail yards and bus garages and will limit access to secure facilities to authorized persons only. We are currently completing a comprehensive review of procedures, facilities and security enhancements, such as cameras on buses, global positioning systems for buses, and sensor systems, in an effort to identify all other potential security needs and their associated costs. Completing this review and implementing additional security enhancements should go a long way toward assuring our riders that public transit continues to be safe in the post-September 11 world.
Since September 11 we have taken a number of actions to demonstrate to riders that we are prepared and are providing security. Our Metro Transit Police have assumed a higher level of recognition within the system, along with operations personnel wearing orange vests. The Metro Transit Police are providing the highest possible level of presence through the use of overtime. On Thursday, September 20, a "Dear Fellow Rider" letter was distributed to customers to engage them in our security efforts and to ask them to help to be our eyes and ears. We are reemphasizing security vigilance to all personnel and completing instruction as needed. We are conducting an updated risk assessment of facilities, and we have introduced new security measures in our headquarters building. Finally, we are actively engaged in a dialogue with others around the country and the world seeking best practices. Our objective is to be prepared and to reassure riders in the region that their freedom of mobility has not been compromised.
What we learned on that day was that it is critical that there are reliable and redundant communication systems and that there is an open exchange of information with other local and federal agencies. There needs to be a regional evacuation plan developed in cooperation with local, state and federal agencies. Such a plan is now in development on an expedited basis in the National Capital Region.
Further, there needs to be regular and ongoing communication with riders. For example, we learned the value of our website, which had double the usual number of hits that day -- over 23,000. Also, our telephone call center handled over 13,000 calls, almost twice the daily volume.
To improve safety, I believe all transit properties should do the following:
To improve transit safety, I believe the federal government should consider the following:
There was much talk of transit's ability to shape the nature of the first major transportation bill of the 21st Century, at the APTA annual conference this week. In closing, I would like to propose that now is the time for the nation to consider certain transit properties as part of the national defense system, and to contemplate their value and needs as the evacuation method of choice, and possibly necessity, during specific emergency situations. Every mode of transportation is important during emergencies, but transit has experienced the highest growth rate of any of the transportation modes over the past five years. It is able to move people much more quickly and efficiently than congested roads and highways can. The nation needs to view our transit systems in this national defense context in order to properly recognize the new reality.
Thank you for holding a hearing on this important subject. I look forward to answering your questions.
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