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Testimony: 

Before the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous 
Materials, Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, House of 
Representatives: 

United States Government Accountability Office: 

GAO: 

For Release on Delivery Expected at 2:00 p.m. EST: 

Tuesday, January 30, 2007: 

Rail Safety: 

The Federal Railroad Administration Is Better Targeting Its Oversight, 
but Needs to Assess the Impact of Its Efforts: 

Statement of Katherine Siggerud: 
Physical Infrastructure Issues: 

GAO-07-390T: 

GAO Highlights: 

Highlights of GAO-07-390T, a testimony before the Subcommittee on 
Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials, Committee on 
Transportation and Infrastructure, House of Representatives 

Why GAO Did This Study: 

Although the overall safety record of the railroad industry, as 
measured by the number of train accidents per million miles traveled, 
has improved markedly since 1980, there has been little or no overall 
improvement over the past decade. Serious accidents resulting in 
injuries and deaths continue to occur, such as one in Graniteville, 
South Carolina, that resulted in 9 deaths and 292 injuries. The Federal 
Railroad Administration (FRA) develops safety standards and inspects 
and enforces railroads’ compliance with these standards. 

On January 26, 2007, GAO reported on FRA’s overall safety oversight 
strategy. (See GAO-07-149.) The report discussed how FRA (1) focuses 
its efforts on the highest priority risks related to train accidents in 
planning its oversight, (2) identifies safety problems on railroad 
systems in carrying out its oversight, and (3) assesses the impact of 
its oversight efforts on safety. GAO recommended that FRA (1) put into 
place measures of the results of its inspection and enforcement 
programs and (2) evaluate its enforcement program. In reviewing a draft 
of that report, the Department of Transportation did not provide 
overall views on its contents or its recommendations. 

The statement is based on GAO’s recent report. 

What GAO Found: 

In planning its safety oversight, FRA is focusing its efforts on the 
highest priority risks related to train accidents through initiatives 
aimed at addressing their main causes—human behaviors and defective 
track—as well as through improvements in its inspection planning 
approach. FRA’s May 2005 National Rail Safety Action Plan, the agency’s 
overall strategy for targeting its oversight at the greatest risks, 
provides a reasonable framework for guiding these efforts. FRA’s 
initiatives to address the most common causes of accidents are 
promising, although the success of many of them will depend on 
voluntary actions by the railroads. In addition, under the action plan, 
FRA has adopted a new inspection planning approach in which inspectors 
focus their efforts on locations that data-driven models indicate are 
most likely to have safety problems. 

In carrying out its safety oversight, FRA identifies a range of safety 
problems on railroad systems mainly by determining whether operating 
practices, track, and equipment are in compliance with minimum safety 
standards. However, FRA is able to inspect only about 0.2 percent of 
railroads’ operations each year, and its inspections do not examine how 
railroads are managing safety risks throughout their systems that could 
lead to accidents. Such an approach, as a supplement to traditional 
compliance inspections, is used in the oversight of U.S. commuter 
railroads and pipelines and of Canadian railroads. GAO did not 
recommend that FRA adopt this approach because the agency’s various 
initiatives to reduce the train accident rate have not yet had time to 
demonstrate their effects on safety. 

FRA uses a range of goals and measures to assess the impact of its 
oversight, such as (1) goals to target its inspection and enforcement 
programs at reducing various types of railroad accidents and (2) 
related measures, such as rates of track-caused accidents, to monitor 
its progress. However, FRA’s ability to make informed decisions about 
these programs is limited because it lacks measures of their direct 
results, such as the correction of identified safety problems. 
Furthermore, FRA has not evaluated the effectiveness of its enforcement 
program. 

Figure: Track Inspector Examining Rail to Assess Its Safety Compliance: 

[See PDF for Image] 

Source: FRA. 

[End of Image] 

[Hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov/cgi-bin/getrpt?GAO-07-390T]. 

To view the full product, including the scope and methodology, click on 
the link above. For more information, contact Katherine Siggerud at 
(202) 512-2834 or siggerudk@gao.gov. 

[End of Section] 

Madam Chairwoman and Members of the Subcommittee: 

We appreciate the opportunity to participate in this hearing today to 
discuss the Federal Railroad Administration's (FRA) rail safety 
oversight activities. Although the overall safety record in the 
railroad industry, as measured by the number of train accidents per 
million miles traveled, has improved markedly since 1980, there has 
been little or no overall improvement over the past decade. (See fig. 
1.) Serious accidents resulting in injuries, deaths, and property 
damage continue to occur. 

Figure 1: Train Accident Rates, 1980 through 2005: 

[See PDF for image] 

Source: FRA. 

[End of figure] 

My remarks center on work we have recently completed on FRA's overall 
safety oversight strategy. Specifically, we examined how FRA (1) 
focuses its efforts on the highest priority risks related to train 
accidents in planning its safety oversight, (2) identifies safety 
problems on railroad systems in carrying out its oversight, and (3) 
assesses the impact of its oversight efforts on safety. Our findings 
are discussed in more detail in our report, which was released last 
week.[Footnote 1] 

Our work was based on a review of laws, regulations, and FRA plans and 
guidance as well as discussions with FRA officials and with a range of 
external stakeholders, including railroads, unions, and state railroad 
safety organizations. We reviewed FRA inspection and enforcement data 
for 1996 through 2005. In addition, we examined risk management 
principles and safety oversight approaches used by other modal 
administrations within the Department of Transportation and other 
organizations that have similar safety missions in order to determine 
their possible application to FRA. Our work focused on FRA oversight 
efforts to reduce the rate of train accidents rather than those to 
reduce highway-rail crossing and trespassing accidents because (1) the 
Department of Transportation's Inspector General has recently assessed 
efforts to reduce highway-rail crossing accidents[Footnote 2] and (2) 
trespassing accidents primarily involve issues not related to railroad 
safety performance. As part of our review, we assessed internal 
controls and the reliability of the data elements needed for this 
engagement and determined that the data elements were sufficiently 
reliable for our purposes. We conducted our work from November 2005 
through January 2007 in accordance with generally accepted government 
auditing standards. 

In summary: 

* In planning its safety oversight, FRA is focusing its efforts on the 
highest priority risks related to train accidents through various 
initiatives aimed at addressing the main causes of these accidents as 
well as through improvements in its inspection planning approach. The 
agency's overall strategy for targeting its oversight at the greatest 
risks is the National Rail Safety Action Plan, which FRA issued in May 
2005. This plan provides a reasonable framework for guiding the 
agency's efforts to improve its oversight. It includes initiatives to 
address the two main causes of train accidents--human factors and 
defective track--and FRA has pursued some additional initiatives to 
address these causes since issuing the plan.[Footnote 3] These 
initiatives--which include new regulations, research on new 
technologies and approaches for improving safety, and new vehicles for 
inspecting track--are promising. However, most of them have not yet 
been fully implemented, and their overall impact on safety will 
probably not be apparent for a number of years. Furthermore, the 
ability of many of these efforts to improve safety will depend on 
voluntary actions by railroads. In addition, the action plan announced 
a new approach for planning inspections that uses data-driven models to 
focus inspectors' efforts on locations that are likely to have safety 
problems. 

* In carrying out its safety oversight, FRA identifies safety problems 
on railroad systems mainly through routine inspections that determine 
whether operating practices, track, and equipment, such as signals and 
locomotives, are in compliance with minimum safety standards. However, 
FRA inspections cover only about 0.2 percent of railroads' operations 
each year. Also, these inspections are not designed to determine how 
well railroads are managing safety risks throughout their systems that 
could lead to accidents. The American Public Transportation Association 
(APTA), the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration 
(PHMSA), and Transport Canada have implemented approaches to oversee 
the management of safety risks by U.S. commuter railroads, U.S. 
pipelines, and Canadian railroads, respectively.[Footnote 4] These 
oversight approaches complement, rather than replace, traditional 
compliance inspections and, therefore, provide additional assurance of 
safety. 

* FRA uses a broad range of goals and measures to assess the impact of 
its oversight efforts on safety. For example, it has developed new 
goals to target its inspection and enforcement efforts at reducing 
various types of railroad accidents and related measures to track its 
progress. However, FRA lacks measures of the direct results of its 
inspection and enforcement programs, such as measures of the extent to 
which these programs have resulted in the correction of identified 
safety problems. Furthermore, FRA has not evaluated the effectiveness 
of its enforcement program in achieving desired results. Both 
performance measures and evaluations can provide valuable information 
on program results that helps hold agencies accountable for the 
performance of their programs. In our recent report, we recommended 
that FRA develop and implement measures of the direct results of its 
inspection and enforcement programs and evaluate its enforcement 
program. FRA reviewed a draft of our report but did not comment on our 
recommendations. 

Background: 

On average, about 450 people have been injured and 14 people have been 
killed in train accidents each year over the past decade, from 1996 
through 2005, exclusive of highway-railroad grade crossing and 
trespassing accidents. In recent years, a number of serious accidents 
raised concerns about the level of safety in the railroad industry. For 
example, as you are aware, in 2005, a train collision in Graniteville, 
South Carolina, resulted in the evacuation of 5,400 people, 292 
injuries, and 9 deaths. 

FRA develops and enforces regulations for the railroad industry that 
include numerous requirements related to safety, including requirements 
governing track, signal and train control systems, grade crossing 
warning device systems, mechanical equipment--such as locomotives and 
tank cars--and railroad operating practices. FRA also enforces 
hazardous materials regulations issued by PHMSA as they relate to the 
safe transportation of such materials by rail. FRA's inspectors 
generally specialize in one of five areas, called inspection 
disciplines: (1) operating practices, (2) track, (3) hazardous 
materials, (4) signal and train control, and (5) motive power and 
equipment. FRA's policy is for inspectors to encourage railroads to 
comply voluntarily. When railroads do not comply voluntarily or 
identified problems are serious, FRA may cite violations and take 
enforcement actions, most frequently civil penalties, to promote 
compliance with its regulations. FRA is authorized to negotiate civil 
penalties with railroads and exercises this authority. FRA conducts 
additional oversight of Class I railroads through the Railroad System 
Oversight program.[Footnote 5] Under this program, the agency assigns 
an FRA manager for each Class I railroad to cooperate with it on 
identifying and resolving safety issues. 

FRA is a small agency, especially in relation to the industry it 
regulates. As of July 2006, FRA had about 660 safety staff, including 
about 400 inspectors in the field (in its regional, district, and local 
offices). In addition, 30 state oversight agencies, with about 160 
inspectors, participate in a partnership program with FRA to conduct 
safety oversight activities at railroads' operating sites. In contrast, 
the railroad industry consists of about 700 railroads with about 
235,000 employees,[Footnote 6] 219,000 miles of track in operation, 
158,000 signals and switches, and over 1.6 million locomotives and 
cars. 

FRA Has Made Progress in Targeting Its Oversight Efforts on the Basis 
of Risk: 

In planning its safety oversight, FRA focuses its efforts on the 
highest priority risks related to train accidents through a number of 
initiatives. FRA's May 2005 National Rail Safety Action Plan provides a 
reasonable framework for the agency's efforts to target its oversight 
at the highest priority risks. The plan outlines initiatives aimed at 
reducing the main types of train accidents, those caused by human 
factors and track defects. Since issuing the plan, the agency has 
pursued additional initiatives to target risks posed by these causes. 
However, these efforts are in varying stages of development or 
implementation and, while some individual initiatives may start showing 
results in the next year or two, their overall impact on safety will 
probably not be apparent for a number of years. FRA has also developed 
a new approach for planning its inspections, based on greater use of 
its accident and inspection data. While these initiatives are 
promising, it is too early to assess their impact. 

FRA Is Making a Number of Efforts to Reduce Accidents Caused by Human 
Factors and Track Defects, but Results Are Not Yet Clear: 

In 2005, 72 percent of all train accidents in the United States were 
attributable to either human factors or track defects. Human factor 
accidents result from unsafe acts of individuals, such as employee 
errors, and can occur for a number of reasons, such as employee fatigue 
or inadequate supervision or training. Recent FRA initiatives to reduce 
accidents caused by human factors include: 

* proposed regulations aimed at reducing the most common causes of 
these accidents, such as improper positioning of track 
switches;[Footnote 7] 

* a 5-year pilot project to establish a confidential voluntary system 
for reporting and learning from close call incidents;[Footnote 8] 

* a study to develop a fatigue model that could be used by railroads to 
improve train crew scheduling practices and prevent worker 
fatigue;[Footnote 9] and: 

* a proposed 5-year pilot project that would use risk management to 
help reduce human factor accidents, as well as other types of 
accidents, at selected railroad worksites. 

Track defects, which can cause derailments, include rails that are 
uneven or too wide apart or rails or joint bars that are cracked or 
broken. Key recent FRA initiatives to reduce accidents caused by track 
defects include: 

* two additional track inspection vehicles that can precisely measure 
track during inspections;[Footnote 10] and: 

* new regulations on inspections of rail joints in continuous welded 
rail track and plans to develop additional regulations to improve 
railroads' management of this type of track.[Footnote 11] 

These initiatives are in varying stages of development or 
implementation and use a variety of approaches, some quite innovative, 
for addressing the causes of human factor and track accidents. While 
they have the potential to eventually reduce these types of accidents, 
it is too early to predict their outcomes. The human factor 
initiatives, except for the proposed regulations, depend on voluntary 
actions by railroads, and, in some cases, labor as well, for their 
success. 

FRA Has Made Progress in Targeting Its Inspections on the Basis of 
Risk: 

FRA has developed a new approach--the National Inspection Plan--for 
using available data to target its inspections at the greatest safety 
risks. The plan provides guidance to each regional office on how its 
inspectors within each of the five inspection disciplines should divide 
up their work by railroad and state. It is based on trend analyses of 
accident, inspection, and other data that predict locations where train 
accidents and incidents are likely to occur within each region and 
provide the optimal allocation of inspection resources to prevent 
accidents. 

Previously, FRA had a less structured, less consistent, and less data- 
driven approach for planning inspections. According to agency 
officials, each region prepared its own inspection plan, based on 
judgments about appropriate priorities and analysis of available data. 
However, the use of data was not consistent from region to region. 
Inspectors had greater discretion about where to inspect and based 
decisions about priorities on their knowledge of their inspection 
territories. 

FRA's new approach for planning its inspection activity allows it to 
better target the greatest safety risks and make more effective use of 
its inspectors. However, it is not yet clear whether the new approach 
will lead to a prioritization of inspection levels across regions and 
inspection disciplines or improved safety. 

FRA Relies Primarily on Direct Inspections to Identify Safety Problems 
and Does Not Oversee Railroads' Management of Safety Risks: 

In carrying out its safety oversight, FRA identifies a range of safety 
problems on railroad systems mainly through routine inspections to 
determine whether operations, track, and equipment are in compliance 
with safety standards. FRA's inspections do not attempt to determine 
how well railroads are managing safety risks throughout their systems. 
APTA, PHMSA, and Transport Canada have implemented approaches to 
oversee the management of safety risks by U.S. commuter railroads, U.S. 
pipelines, and Canadian railroads, respectively. These oversight 
approaches complement, rather than replace, traditional compliance 
inspections and therefore provide additional assurance of safety. 

FRA's Oversight Identifies a Range of Problems on Railroad Systems: 

FRA primarily monitors railroads' compliance through routine 
inspections by individual inspectors at specific sites on railroads' 
systems. Inspectors typically cover a range of standards within their 
discipline during these inspections. This inspection approach focuses 
on direct observations of specific components of the train, related 
equipment, and railroad property--including the track and signal 
systems--as well as operating practices to determine whether they meet 
FRA's standards. (See fig. 2.) Inspectors also examine railroads' 
inspection and maintenance records. The railroads have their own 
inspectors who are responsible for ensuring that railroad equipment, 
track, and operations meet federal rail safety standards. 

Figure 2: FRA Inspector Inspecting Train Cars: 

[See PDF for image] 

Source: FRA. 

[End of figure] 

FRA also conducts more in-depth inspection efforts that generally focus 
on railroads' compliance in a particular area, such as their 
inspections of employees' adherence to operating rules. These efforts 
often involve a team conducting separate inspections at multiple sites, 
generally within one of FRA's eight regions. FRA also periodically 
conducts in-depth inspections of some systemwide programs that 
railroads are required to implement, such as employee drug and alcohol 
testing programs. 

In 2005, federal and state inspectors conducted about 63,000 
inspections. According to FRA, routine inspections constituted about 75 
percent of the inspections of railroads, and in-depth inspections 
accounted for about 11 percent. The remainder of these inspections (14 
percent) consisted of other types of activities, such as investigations 
of accidents and complaints. This approach to oversight enables FRA 
inspectors and managers to identify a wide range of safety problems. 
Inspectors identify specific compliance problems--conditions that do 
not meet FRA's standards--at sites they visit by citing defects. 
Inspectors cite violations of safety standards for those defects that 
they believe warrant enforcement action. They consider a number of 
factors in making this decision, including the railroad's history of 
compliance at that location and the seriousness of the noncompliance 
(such as whether it is likely to cause accidents, injuries, or releases 
of hazardous materials). Inspectors in some disciplines cite more 
defects and violations than others. (See fig. 3.) 

Figure 3: Inspections Conducted and Defects and Violations Cited, by 
Inspection Discipline, in 2005: 

[See PDF for image] 

Source: GAO analysis of FRA data. 

Note: These figures include inspections carried out by both federal and 
state inspectors. Inspectors are instructed to cite defects for most 
instances of noncompliance found, but have discretion in determining 
which instances to cite as violations warranting enforcement action. 

[End of figure] 

The motive power and equipment discipline cites almost half of all 
defects and over a third of all violations. FRA officials told us that 
the standards in this inspection discipline are the most prescriptive, 
making defects and violations easier to find. However, these types of 
defects cause a much smaller proportion of accidents than human factors 
and track defects.[Footnote 12] The most frequently cited violations 
include those for noncompliance with standards for locomotives and 
freight cars, track conditions, recordkeeping on the inspection and 
repair of equipment and track, and the condition of hazardous materials 
tank cars. 

Several Other Organizations Have Implemented Comprehensive Approaches 
for Overseeing the Management of Safety Risks in Transportation 
Industries: 

FRA officials have noted that their approach of directly inspecting 
safety conditions and targeting locations that are most likely to have 
compliance problems provides a safety net and holds railroad management 
accountable. However, because the number of FRA and state inspectors is 
small relative to the size of railroad operations, FRA inspections can 
cover only a very small proportion of railroad operations (0.2 
percent). Also, FRA targets inspections at locations on railroads' 
systems where accidents have occurred, among other factors, rather than 
overseeing whether railroads systematically identify and address safety 
risks that could lead to accidents. 

Risk management can help to improve systemwide safety by systematically 
identifying and assessing risks associated with various safety hazards 
and prioritizing them so that resources may be allocated to address the 
highest risks first. It also can help in ensuring that the most 
appropriate alternatives to prevent or mitigate the effects of hazards 
are designed and implemented. A framework for risk management based on 
industry best practices and other criteria that we have developed 
divides risk management into five major phases: (1) setting strategic 
goals and objectives, and determining constraints; (2) assessing risks; 
(3) evaluating alternatives for addressing these risks; (4) selecting 
the appropriate alternatives; and (5) implementing the alternatives and 
monitoring the progress made and results achieved. 

Other transportation oversight organizations have developed and 
implemented approaches for overseeing industries' overall management of 
safety risks. In particular, during the last 10 years, APTA, PHMSA, and 
Transport Canada have developed and implemented such oversight 
approaches for U.S. commuter railroads, U.S. pipelines, and Canadian 
railroads, respectively. These approaches complement, rather than 
replace, traditional compliance inspections. APTA provides guidelines 
to commuter railroads on managing the safety of their systems-- 
including safety risks--and audits their plans for and implementation 
of this management approach.[Footnote 13] PHMSA requires that pipeline 
operators develop "integrity management" programs to manage risk in 
areas--such as those that are densely populated--where leaks or 
ruptures could have the greatest impact on public safety and inspects 
operators' compliance with these requirements.[Footnote 14] In Canada, 
the department responsible for overseeing railroad safety, Transport 
Canada, requires that railroads establish safety management systems 
that include risk management and assesses these systems.[Footnote 15] 
APTA, PHMSA, and Transport Canada have emphasized that risk management 
provides a higher standard of performance than traditional safety 
regulation based on compliance alone. 

We have reviewed PHMSA's gas transmission pipeline integrity management 
oversight approach and have recently concluded that it enhances public 
safety.[Footnote 16] Operators told us that the primary benefit of the 
program is the comprehensive knowledge they acquire about the condition 
of their pipelines. APTA and Transport Canada officials have told us 
that their oversight approaches have not been formally evaluated to 
determine their effectiveness. 

FRA has taken some steps in a limited number of areas to oversee and 
encourage risk management in the railroad industry. For example, the 
agency has several regulations in place that require railroads to use a 
risk-based approach for managing safety in some specific areas, such as 
the operation of high-speed passenger trains. In addition, FRA is 
considering establishing a pilot project to examine how a risk 
management approach could be used voluntarily in the railroad industry 
to reduce human factor and other types of accidents. 

Oversight of railroads' overall approach for managing safety risks on 
their systems, in addition to FRA's existing discipline-specific, 
compliance-based oversight, has the potential to provide additional 
assurance of safety. However, developing and implementing such a new 
oversight approach would be a major undertaking for the agency, and 
FRA's current initiatives to reduce train accidents need time to mature 
to demonstrate their effects. As a result, we did not recommend in our 
recent report that FRA adopt an approach for overseeing railroads' 
management of safety risks. 

FRA Measures Its Progress in Achieving a Variety of Safety Goals, but 
Has Limited Information on the Direct Results of Its Oversight: 

FRA has a broad range of goals and measures that it uses to provide 
direction to and track the performance of its safety oversight 
activities. However, its ability to make informed decisions about its 
inspection and enforcement programs is limited because it lacks 
measures of the intermediate outcomes, or direct results, of these 
programs that would show how they are contributing toward the end 
outcomes, or ultimate safety improvements, that the agency seeks to 
achieve. Furthermore, FRA has not evaluated the effectiveness of its 
enforcement approach. Both performance measures and evaluations can 
provide valuable information on program results that helps hold 
agencies accountable for their programs' performance. 

FRA Has Established a Range of Safety Goals and Measures, but 
Information on Direct Results Is Limited: 

To its credit, FRA has adopted a range of useful safety performance 
goals and related measures. These goals help the agency target its 
oversight efforts to achieve the department's goals of reducing (1) the 
rate of rail-related accidents and incidents and (2) the number of 
serious hazardous materials releases. For example, FRA has recently 
established new agencywide safety goals that are aligned with its five 
inspection disciplines and its grade-crossing efforts. These include 
goals to reduce the rates of various types of train accidents-- 
including those caused by human factors, track defects, and equipment 
failure--as well as hazardous materials releases and grade-crossing 
incidents. These departmental and agency goals represent the key end 
outcomes, or ultimate results, FRA seeks to achieve through its 
oversight efforts. FRA has also established related measures that help 
the agency determine and demonstrate its progress in meeting the 
desired goals. In addition, it has also established similar goals and 
measures for each of its eight regional offices. FRA also uses various 
other measures to manage its oversight efforts, such as numbers of 
inspections performed and enforcement actions taken. 

While FRA has developed a range of goals and measures related to its 
oversight of railroad safety, it lacks measures of the desired 
intermediate outcomes, or direct results, of its inspection and 
enforcement efforts--the correction of identified safety problems and 
improvements in compliance. (See fig. 4.) According to FRA officials, 
inspectors review reports on corrective actions provided by railroads 
and always follow up on serious identified problems to ensure that they 
are corrected. However, the agency does not measure the extent to which 
the identified safety problems have been corrected. FRA also lacks 
overall measures of railroads' compliance. Officials have emphasized 
that the agency relies on inspectors' day-to-day oversight of and 
interaction with railroads to track compliance.[Footnote 17] 

Figure 4: How FRA's Inspection and Enforcement Programs Contribute to 
Rail Safety: 

[See PDF for image] 

Source: GAO analysis of FRA information. 

Note: The program outputs and intermediate outcomes included in this 
figure are examples of the outputs and intended direct results of FRA's 
inspection and enforcement programs. We identified these as outputs and 
intermediate outcomes based on discussions with FRA officials; FRA 
itself has not identified them as such. 

[End of figure] 

Without measures of intermediate outcomes, the extent to which FRA's 
inspection and enforcement programs are achieving direct results and 
contributing to desired end outcomes is not clear. We recognize that 
developing such measures would be difficult and that it is challenging 
for regulatory agencies to develop such measures. Nevertheless, some 
other regulatory agencies in the Department of Transportation have done 
so. For example, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration 
measures the percentage of truck companies that improve their 
performance in a follow-up inspection. 

FRA Has Made Changes in Response to Evaluations but Has Not Evaluated 
Its Enforcement Approach: 

By examining a broader range of information than is feasible to monitor 
on an ongoing basis through performance measures, evaluation studies 
can explore the benefits of a program as well as ways to improve 
program performance. They can also be used to develop or improve 
agencies' measures of program performance and help ensure agencies' 
accountability for program results. Although FRA has modified several 
aspects of its safety oversight in response to external and internal 
evaluations, it has not evaluated the extent to which its enforcement 
is achieving desired results. 

Under FRA's current "focused enforcement" policy, developed in the mid- 
1990s, inspectors cite a small percentage of identified defects (about 
3 percent in 2005) as violations that they recommend for enforcement 
action, generally civil penalties. While this policy relies to a great 
extent on cooperation with railroads to achieve compliance and is 
intended to focus FRA's enforcement efforts on those instances of 
noncompliance that pose the greatest safety hazards, it is not clear 
whether the number of civil penalties issued, or their amounts, are 
having the desired effect of improving compliance. Without an 
evaluation of its enforcement program, FRA is missing an opportunity to 
obtain valuable information on the performance of this program and on 
any need for adjustments to improve this performance. 

In the report we issued last week, we recommended that FRA (1) develop 
and implement measures of the direct results of its inspection and 
enforcement programs and (2) evaluate the agency's enforcement program 
to provide further information on its results, the need for additional 
data to measure and assess these results, and the need for any changes 
in this program to improve performance. FRA did not express a view on 
these recommendations when it commented on our draft report. As part of 
our normal recommendation follow-up activity, we will work toward FRA's 
adoption of our recommendations. 

Madam Chairwoman, this concludes my prepared statement. I would be 
pleased to respond to any questions that you or other Members of the 
Subcommittee might have. 

GAO Contacts and Staff Acknowledgement: 

For further information on this statement, please contact Katherine 
Siggerud at (202) 512-2834 or siggerudk@gao.gov. Individuals making key 
contributions to this testimony were Judy Guilliams-Tapia, Bonnie 
Pignatiello Leer, and James Ratzenberger. 

FOOTNOTES 

[1] See GAO, The Federal Railroad Administration Is Taking Steps to 
Better Target Its Oversight, but Assessment of Results Is Needed to 
Determine Impact, GAO-07-149 (Washington, D.C.: Jan. 26, 2007). 

[2] See U.S. Department of Transportation, Office of the Inspector 
General, Audit of Oversight of Highway-Rail Grade Crossing Accident 
Reporting, Investigations and Safety Regulations, MH-2006-016 
(Washington, D.C.: Nov. 28, 2005) and Report on the Audit of the 
Highway-Rail Grade Crossing Safety Program, MH-2004-065 (Washington, 
D.C.: June 16, 2004). 

[3] Generally, human factors are behaviors that affect job performance, 
such as incorrectly setting switches. 

[4] Risk management can be described as a systematic approach for 
identifying, analyzing, and controlling risks. 

[5] For 2005, the Surface Transportation Board has defined Class I 
railroads as railroads earning adjusted annual operating revenues of 
$319.3 million or more. 

[6] This number does not include contractor employees hired by the 
railroads. 

[7] FRA issued this proposed regulation in October 2006 and plans to 
issue a final regulation by the end of 2007. 

[8] According to FRA, a close call represents a situation in which an 
ongoing sequence of events was stopped from developing further, 
preventing the occurrence of potentially serious safety-related 
consequences. 

[9] Railroad employees often work long hours and have unpredictable and 
fluctuating work schedules. FRA and the National Transportation Safety 
Board have identified employee fatigue as a significant factor in many 
train accidents. FRA does not have the authority to regulate railroad 
worker duty hours. 

[10] According to FRA, these additional vehicles will allow the agency 
to triple the miles of track that it is able to inspect per year, to 
nearly 100,000 miles. FRA also inspects track conditions through manual 
inspections conducted on foot or in on-track equipment. 

[11] In continuous welded rail track, rails are welded together to form 
one continuous rail that may be several miles long. There may be joints 
in this rail for several reasons, including the need to replace a 
section of defective rail. 

[12] FRA officials have explained that operating practices inspectors 
have had a limited ability to cite defects and violations because of 
the way regulations in this area are written. For example, as noted 
previously, the regulations contain general requirements about 
railroads' programs for inspecting employees' adherence to operating 
rules and do not specifically require that employees follow these 
rules. The agency expects that its proposed regulations on operating 
rules will improve its ability to enforce in this area, because the 
requirements will be more stringent than existing regulations. 

[13] APTA is a nonprofit organization representing the transit 
industry, including U.S. commuter rail systems. 

[14] PHMSA administers the national regulatory program to ensure the 
safe transportation of hazardous liquids and natural gas by pipeline. 

[15] Transport Canada oversees the safety and security of Canada's 
rail, marine, highway, and aviation operations. 

[16] GAO, Natural Gas Pipeline Safety: Integrity Management Benefits 
Public Safety, but Consistency of Performance Measures Should Be 
Improved. GAO-06-946 (Washington, D.C.: Sept. 8, 2006). 

[17] FRA headquarters and regional officials also analyze defect data 
in each inspection discipline to identify emerging issues and plan 
inspection activity. 

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