Maryland transportation chief under fire from Democrats over Baltimore Metro safety

Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn spoke at an event in December. Democratic candidate for governor, Jim Shea, has called on Rahn to resign over the closure of Baltimore's Metro subway system.
Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn spoke at an event in December. Democratic candidate for governor, Jim Shea, has called on Rahn to resign over the closure of Baltimore's Metro subway system. (Paul W. Gillespie / Capital Gazette)

A Baltimore lawmaker and a candidate for governor, both Democrats, have criticized Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s transportation secretary after The Baltimore Sun reported that the state operated the city’s Metro system for more than a year after discovering 17 sections of rails failed to meet safety standards.

With less than 24 hours’ notice last week, the Hogan administration shut down the Baltimore MetroLink subway system for a month to replace rails that have been worn down to unsafe levels in the system’s 36 years of operation.


The degradation of the rails, which could cost $1.5 million to fix, had surpassed the Maryland Transit Administration’s safety threshold in November 2016, according to an inspector’s report released last week. But the state continued to run trains over the track — albeit at slower speeds to reduce the risk of derailment.

Transportation officials say the system was never dangerous for riders.


Hogan, who has started his fourth year in office, has blamed the MetroLink’s problems on years of neglect ignored by his predecessors.

The Maryland Transit Administration knew that the Baltimore Metro Subway’s rails violated the agency’s safety standards for more than a year before officials declared an emergency shutdown of the system with less than 24 hours’ notice last week, according to an MTA inspection report.

Del. Brooke Lierman, a Baltimore Democrat, said she is “totally flabbergasted” by the inspection report that showed officials were aware of problems prior to closing the system.

Lierman, who sits on the subcommittee that oversees the state transportation budget, said she was misled by Transportation Secretary Pete K. Rahn and Deputy Secretary James F. Ports Jr. when they recently appeared before the panel.

“Both of them repeatedly assured me that as soon as this concern surfaced, they shut the subway down,” she said. “It will be hard for me to trust anything the secretary of transportation or the deputy tell me from now on.”

Lierman also reiterated her call for a thorough inventory of the condition of all of the MTA’s capital assets, including the Baltimore bus system and light rail line.

Rahn on Tuesday said the criticism stems from a misunderstanding about rail degradation. He said the state found accelerated problems only recently and acted immediately to fix them, as he told lawmakers last week.

“I absolutely did not mislead the committees,” he said.

Since November 2016, he said, “that rail was absolutely safe during that period of time … There was never, ever a time where we believed it was not safe.”

He said Maryland’s safety threshold is more stringent than other transit systems across the country and the state inspected the system 821 times since November 2016 to make sure it was safe. Rahn said the threshold noted in the inspection report was one of 23 factors considered during the inspection, and exceeding it alone would not be enough to make the system unsafe.

While he acknowledged that the rail’s degradation surpassed what the state designates as safe, he said Maryland’s standards are generally considered outdated and far stricter than other states.

“The reality is that the industry practice has changed over time. Our policy, frankly, didn’t keep up with industry practice,” Rahn said. “If we’re to be faulted, it’s because we didn’t keep policies up to what the industry is doing around the country.”

Jim Shea, one of seven Democrats seeking to challenge Hogan in this year’s election, said Rahn should resign over the report that state officials knew of the Metro’s problems for months before shutting down the system. He also said state officials “willfully ignored safety concerns” and Hogan should explain his administration’s handling of the system’s safety.


“His administration put the safety of Marylanders at risk by not acting to fix the problems when they were notified,” Shea said.

Rahn said he has no plans to resign and sees no reason for it.

“My wife might love me to resign, but I don’t have any intention of it,” he said. “If I had any thought that we had done anything wrong, I absolutely would have. But I’m not. We’ve done a good job, and the people that I work with have done a good job as well.”

Baltimore Sun reporter Michael Dresser contributed to this article.

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