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Federal Transit Administration seeks new mass transit safety role

A newly proposed safety program for public transportation providers, including the MTA, would allow federal funding to be withheld from agencies that don't meet standards.

The Federal Transit Administration's proposed Public Transportation Safety Program would allow the agency, whose role has generally been limited to federal financing, to conduct its own safety-related inspections, audits and testing of equipment, facilities and trains.

FTA acting Administrator Therese McMillan called the plan "a major step forward in establishing FTA's safety regulatory framework."

"With transit ridership at its highest levels in generations, and our nation's transit agencies facing increased pressure to meet the demand for service, we must continue to ensure that safety remains the top priority," McMillan said Friday in a statement.

According to the FTA, the plan would allow the agency to "take appropriate enforcement actions," including issuing advisories and withholding federal dollars.

"This FTA safety initiative enhances safety via both aggressive audits and prevention as well as real enforcement mechanisms. It is a very welcome step forward," Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement.

Last year, New York received $1.5 billion in funding from the FTA for maintaining Metropolitan Transit Authority infrastructure and other costs. The FTA also has kicked in about $3 billion for the MTA's $10.2 billion East Side Access project, linking the Long Island Rail Road to Grand Central Terminal by 2022.

The proposed changes to the FTA are the latest of several measures taken by the federal government in recent years to increase safety on public transportation systems.

Some of those measures, including installing cameras on trains, came in response to a number of deadly accidents on the Metro-North Railroad in recent years. A December 2013 derailment of a train in the Bronx killed four people.

"Every day, millions of Americans take public transportation to get to work, school, medical appointments and other important destinations," U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement. "This new program will help us ensure that transit continues to be a safe way to get around, and a safe place to work."

MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg said Friday that customers' safety remains the agency's "top priority."

He noted that the MTA has done a lot on its own to bolster safety efforts, such as appointing a chief safety officer and creating an MTA governing board safety committee.

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