Thoughts on the Metro Hearing
Photo by umucari.

Photo by umucari.

For the liveblog that I’ll be commenting on, click here. Below are my random thoughts on the whole hearing.

On one level, I feel silly writing anything at all. This was largely, as far as I could tell, Eleanor Holmes Norton wanting some time for the kabuki that is a Congressional hearing. I doubt that this will actually change anything that happens. That’s particularly true since Congress appropriated their funding to WMATA yesterday, which was the chief request of a large portion of the panel.

Still, there are some interesting things to talk about. First, it’s always interesting to see who shows up. That’s one of the reasons the political theater still matters. When Chris Van Hollen took the mic for approximately 1 minute to say that the crash was a tragedy, that’s a significant difference from Kucinich or Davis, who didn’t show up. It’s no coincidence that the better part of the regional delegation was there.

I was also quite impressed with both Chaffetz and Bilbray. You don’t necessarily expect minority party members from non-transit districts far away from the affected region to either have invested significant time in the issue or to feel passionately about it. Separate from agreeing with either of them, both knew their stuff and obviously cared. Good on them. Though it’s easier to feel sympathy in a hearing that didn’t really have any disagreement happening.

To what extent, I wonder, was the framing of this as for federal employees and tourists politically necessary? Would it be at all possible to quantify that number? It’s a mixed-bag, being a colony. There probably wouldn’t have been the attention paid by Congress, but it would be nice for Congress to remember that people live in D.C.

Eleanor Holmes Norton sure can interrogate some witnesses. I guess that’s what happens when you get to sit on committees, but not vote… But she was the only one I wouldn’t have wanted to face.

It seems like Congress had two big things they were focused on at the level of specifics. One was the 1000-series cars and the other was reducing the level of automation. I guess these are the easiest to understand issues? But reducing the level of automation doesn’t really seem either necessary or like it would have prevented this crash, as the second (functioning) train did try to brake and was able to slow some.

What was the purpose of bringing in the witness? His testimony was riveting, but completely inconsequential and therefore completely ignored. He was never asked a question.

The biggest sparks of the afternoon were when Norton was sparring with Hersman about interim steps that the NTSB could recommend. What the debate revolved around was the difference between what is effectively an engineering organization, which is tasked with finding the most effectively safe solution, and politicians, who are constrained by cost. I think it’s good to have an organization that acts, in Hersman’s words, as the “conscience” of transportation. But I sympathize with the frustration of then not knowing how to scale back those plans to reality. This really is the central conflict of all transportation issues, though, isn’t it: politics vs. engineering? They’re just two very very different ways of looking at the world.

If the Tri-state Oversight Commission, which is charged with overseeing WMATA and issuing safety recommendations, finds it too difficult to even have a website because they don’t know how to operate that across jurisdictional lines, they should all be fired. Tomorrow. If you can’t run a website, what in the world can you do? Can they not figure out how to print their recommendations to WMATA, because which jurisdiction will mail it? Honestly…

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