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VIA THE WASHINGTON POST:

The District, Maryland and Virginia are nearly doubling their funding of a safety oversight group that monitors Metro, plus bolstering and reorganizing its staffing, after a federal audit found major weaknesses in the organization.

The little-known Tri-State Oversight Committee laid out the plans in a response due Tuesday to a scathing Federal Transit Administration audit of Metro’s safety problems. The audit, issued in March, cited the lack of a strong oversight group as one of the factors in Metro’s persistent and deadly safety problems.

The oversight group will receive about $804,000 annually, up from the $450,000 total that D.C., Virginia and Maryland typically contributed, according to the report released Tuesday. Maryland and the District will join Virginia in each dedicating a full-time and part-time employee to the committee, separate from the extra funding.

The changes are the first steps in improving what has been called a toothless oversight group. Many top Metro officials, including the transit agency’s chairman, did not even know the committee existed until the June 22 train crash that killed nine people. It had no office, no phone and no Web site. Metro did not follow its requests, refusing for months to allow the committee to inspect train tracks for safety violations — even after track workers were killed.

The additional money will help the agency tap into more expertise, giving it the ability to hire more short-term consultants as needed instead of having them on staff, said TOC Chairman Matt Bassett.

The money also will help train the committee’s staff, which would be required to receive certifications from the federal offshoot Transportation Safety Institute.

The committee would be reorganized with a stronger chairman, who would serve more than a year so the committee doesn’t get bogged down trying to clear permission from all three jurisdictions.

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