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updated: 8/13/2013 8:01 PM

Feds increase Metra safety oversight during crisis

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  • Sen. Dick Durbin, pictured at Union Station, engaged the Federal Railroad Administration to conduct more oversight of Metra in its latest crisis.

      Sen. Dick Durbin, pictured at Union Station, engaged the Federal Railroad Administration to conduct more oversight of Metra in its latest crisis.
    Daily Herald File Photo


The Federal Railroad Administration will keep a close eye on Metra as the agency deals with fallout from a scandal involving allegations by ex-CEO Alex Clifford.

FRA Administrator Joseph Szabo said Tuesday the agency's regional administrator will increase inspections and be in frequent contact with Metra staff throughout the crisis.

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"Although FRA inspection results to date show that Metra continues to be a safe and efficient operation -- a credit to the career professionals who consistently execute a service-oriented, safety-focused culture of reliable service -- I agree with your call to be proactive," Szabo wrote to Sen. Dick Durbin.

Durbin recently asked the agency to increase oversight as Metra copes in the aftermath of resignations of two board of directors leaders who left amid allegations of conflict of interest and condoning political patronage.

Two other directors also departed in July, leaving the board with just seven members out of 11.

The accusations were made by Clifford, who exited in June after directors approved an up-to-$718,000 separation agreement that's been called "hush money" by lawmakers who are investigating the situation along with two state inspectors general.

Metra is currently operating with two deputy executive directors, an unusual measure that falls outside of requirements in the RTA act.

Szabo, a Chicagoan, said FRA executives are talking frequently with Chief Operating Officer/Deputy Executive Director Don Orseno, a Metra veteran, and "emphasizing the need to stay focused on safety during this period of leadership transition." This will ensure "a direct line of communication should any void of leadership have the potential of creating an unsafe environment," he said.

FRA actions include weekly face-to-face meetings with Orseno and the FRA regional administrator to review safety issues, working with labor unions, increasing inspections, riding with Metra engineers and more oversight of operational tests.

"Commuters can be certain that the leadership and management issues at the board will not compromise the safety and efficiency of Metra operations," Durbin said in a statement.

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