Safety, maintenance and reliability problems have long plagued the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, commonly called Metro. (Creative Commons via Pixabay)

WASHINGTON — Senators from Virginia and Maryland are pushing new legislation to ensure that Metro gets up to $200 million each year from the federal government — with some strings attached.

Virginia Democratic Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine joined Maryland Democratic Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen at a press conference Thursday to announce their measure aimed at extending federal funding over the next decade for the Washington region’s transit system.

“I think we all know as local representatives that Metro is really the federal government’s and our nation’s capital’s key transportation system,” Warner said at the Capitol South Metro station outside a U.S. House office building. “Without Metro, the gridlock that would exist, or the ability to get to this hill would be greatly diminished, and we think it’s time for our federal partners to step up.”

Virginia Democratic Sens. Mark Warner, left, and Tim Kaine, center left join, join their counterparts from Maryland to push for more federal Metro funding (Robin Bravender/ Newsroom Washington Bureau)

Metro has received $150 million per year from the federal government over the last decade for capital expenses, but that’s set to lapse this year unless Congress enacts an extension.

The funding could also include an extra $50 million per year under the new bill, assuming the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority meets certain safety requirements and boosts the powers of the inspector general. The measure would also prohibit Metro from using federal funds to buy Chinese railcars after lawmakers raised concerns about the safety and security of those cars.

A long string of safety and maintenance lapses (as well as workforce and mismanagement woes) that have plagued the aging transit system.

“We need to take it to the next level with an additional $50 million a year. And that’s what we’re supporting based on certain reforms taking place,” Cardin said. “We think that’s a responsible way for Congress to act and to increase the federal government’s commitment to the Metro system during this next decade.”

The lawmakers said they’re expecting widespread support for the measure in Congress, due in part to the proliferation of Metro users across Capitol Hill.

Without the Metro system, Kaine said, the region “would come to a complete standstill, the federal government would come to a standstill. Metro users are in every congressional office and every Senate office on the Hill and every federal agency. Metro and the success of the D.C. region are completely linked.”

Van Hollen stressed that lawmakers want to make it very clear that Metro must have “top-notch” cyber security. “We’ve been very clear that as part of that effort, we should not be purchasing the railcars for the Washington Metro system from China, in order to assure the security of communications in this region.”

The Washington Post reported last month that China’s state-owned rail company, the China Railway Rolling Stock Corp., was pursuing a Metro contract upwards of $1 billion to build up to 800 of its new 8000-series rail cars. But critics have warned that such a deal could hurt U.S. manufacturers and pose cyberespionage threats.

“This is a matter of national security,” Cardin said. “We will work with Metro to make sure that Chinese technology does not get into the new equipment that is needed by Metro. We’ll figure out a way to comply with law to make sure that our national security is protected.”

The Federal Transit Administration returned safety oversight of the WMATA system to a local control, under the auspices of the new multi-jurisdiction Metrorail Safety Commission, in March. With that came the release of about $50 million in funding that had been held up for the Washington region.