Gubernatorial candidate Jim Shea says MDOT chief should resign over Baltimore Metro shutdown

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Photo by Adam E. Moreira, via Wikimedia Commons

Local defense attorney and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jim Shea says Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn should step down after the state has effectively admitted it knew, but didn’t act on major safety issues in Baltimore’s metro system.

“Rahn should resign, and Governor Hogan must provide answers,” Shea said in a statement Tuesday. “His administration put the safety of Marylanders at risk by not acting to fix the problems when they were notified.

The subway has been completely shut down since Feb. 11 for emergency track work, and will remain that way until at least March 11. (Another shutdown is planned for this summer.) The Maryland Department of Transportation suddenly announced the closure nearly two weeks ago so that crews could go in repair unsafe areas of track. However, the closure left tens of thousands of riders to take Maryland Transit Administration buses–funded with $2.2 million in emergency state funds–to bridge their non-running train routes.

But in an inspection report unveiled last week, first reported by the Baltimore Brew, the agency revealed it had known since November 2016 about vast sections of track that were in poor enough condition to warrant emergency repairs. Specifically, there were 17 sections of track that exceed the state’s “gauge face angle” (GFA) standard, which measures wear on the rails.

“When presented with GFA findings in addition to a physical inspection, we found that the rate of wear was greater than anticipated,” MTA Administrator Kevin Quinn said in a statement issued last week. “As a result, we took immediate action to protect our riders and initiated rail replacements at an accelerated schedule.”

But the shutdown wasn’t quite immediate. The agency opted to keep the system up and running instead of doing the track work in 2016. Only after a physical inspection, as Quinn noted, did they suddenly shut it all down.

“MTA knew full well of the condition of the metro, and they didn’t do anything,” Shea said on a phone call Tuesday. “Now all of a sudden, without having notice, just to cancel it—not only is it a terrible inconvenience to the riders, but Interstate 83, the Jones Falls Expressway coming into Baltimore, is all congested. It’s totally jammed.”

Rahn, who’s served as transportation chief under Gov. Larry Hogan since 2015, should be held responsible for the delayed repairs and potential safety hazards, Shea argues.

Multiple spokespeople for MDOT and the MTA have not responded to requests for comment from Baltimore Fishbowl.

Rahn did, however, tell The Sun today that he has no plans to resign, and that the track was never unsafe. And while the November 2016 inspection report said 17 sections of rail had failed to meet Maryland safety standards for rail degradation, Rahn told the paper the state’s threshold for what’s considered a safe GFA is both outdated and higher than industry standards.

“If we’re to be faulted, it’s because we didn’t keep policies up to what the industry is doing around the country,” he told the paper.

Shea noted the state has used the fact that no derailments have occurred to deflect criticism, but posed, “The fact that there wasn’t a derailment, why is that a defense?”

He added that Rahn somewhat infamously mentioned the state had offered mega-retailer Amazon a “blank check” for state-funded transportation improvements to Montgomery County—comments that Hogan later walked back—and that the governor has committed billions to repairing roads across Maryland.

“Doesn’t it show the disdain that Governor Hogan and Secretary Rahn hold for Baltimore?”

Ethan McLeod
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Ethan McLeod

Senior Editor at Baltimore Fishbowl
Ethan has been editing and reporting for Baltimore Fishbowl since fall of 2016. His previous stops include Fox 45, CQ Researcher and Connection Newspapers in Northern Virginia. His freelance writing has been featured in Baltimore City Paper, Leafly, DCist and BmoreArt, among other outlets. He enjoys basketball, humid Mid-Atlantic summers and story tips.
Ethan McLeod
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