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Testimony: 

Before the Subcommittee on Housing, Transportation, and Community 
Development, Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, U.S. 
Senate: 

United States Government Accountability Office: 
GAO: 

For Release on Delivery: 
Expected at 9:30 a.m. EST:
Thursday, December 10, 2009: 

Rail Transit: 

Observations on FTA's State Safety Oversight Program and Potential 
Change in Its Oversight Role: 

Statement of David J. Wise, Director:
Physical Infrastructure Issues: 

GAO-10-314T: 

GAO Highlights: 

Highlights of GAO-10-314T, a testimony before the Subcommittee on 
Housing, Transportation, and Community Development, Committee on 
Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, U.S. Senate. 

Why GAO Did This Study: 

Highlights of GAO-10-314T, a testimony before the Subcommittee on 
Housing, Transportation, and Community Development, Committee on 
Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, U.S. Senate. 

What GAO Found: 

GAOs 2006 report found that officials from the majority of the state 
oversight and transit agencies stated that the State Safety Oversight 
program enhances rail transit safety but that FTA faced several 
challenges in administering the program. For example, state oversight 
agencies received little or no funding from FTA and had limited funding 
for staff. In fact, some required that the transit agencies they 
oversaw reimburse them for services. Also, expertise, staffing levels, 
and enforcement powers varied widely from agency to agency. This 
resulted in a lack of uniformity in how oversight agencies carried out 
their duties. As of 2006, 13 oversight agencies were devoting the 
equivalent of less than one full-time employee to oversight functions. 
Also, 19 oversight agencies GAO contacted lacked certain enforcement 
authority, such as authority to issue fines, and those that did have 
such authority stated that they rarely, if ever, used it. 

DOT is planning to propose major changes in FTAs role that would shift 
the balance of federal and state responsibilities for oversight of rail 
transit safety. According to DOT officials, under this proposal, the 
agency would receive authority to establish and enforce minimum 
standards although states still could maintain an oversight program. 
States could become authorized to enforce these standards if FTA 
determines their program capable and financially independent of the 
transit system they oversee. FTA would provide financial assistance to 
approved programs. Such changes would have the potential to address 
challenges GAO cited in its 2006 report. For example, providing funding 
to participating state agencies could help them maintain an adequate 
number of trained staff, and providing FTA and participating states 
with enforcement authority could help better ensure that transit 
systems take corrective actions when problems are found. Congress may 
need to consider several issues in deciding whether or how to act on 
DOTs proposal. These include determining what level of government has 
the best capacity to oversee transit safety, ensuring that FTA and 
state oversight agencies would have adequate and qualified staff to 
carry out the envisioned program, and understanding the potential 
budgetary implications of the program. 

Figure: Examples of Rail Transit Systems Subject to FTA State Safety 
Oversight Program: 

[Refer to PDF for image: 6 photographs] 

Heavy Rail: Chicago Transit Authority L; 
Light Rail: Port Authority of Allegheny County T; 
Automated Guideway: Seattle Center Monorail; 
Inclined Plane: Port Authority of Allegheny County Duquesne Incline; 
Cable Car: San Francisco Municipal Railway Cable Car; 
Trolley: Kenosha Transit Trolley. 

Sources: PennDOT; Seattle Center Monorail; San Francisco Municipal 
Railway; GAO. 

[End of figure] 

View [hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-10-314T] or key 
components. For more information, contact David J. Wise at (202) 512-
2834 or wised@gao.gov. 

[End of section] 

December 10, 2009: 

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee: 

We appreciate the opportunity to provide testimony on the mechanisms in 
place to oversee the safety of the nation's rail transit systems. Rail 
transit moves more than 7 million people in the United States daily and 
generally has been one of the safest forms of public transportation. 
However, several recent notable accidents and other troubling safety 
events are cause for concern. For example, a June 2009 crash on the 
Washington Metro Red Line resulted in nine deaths. Metro also has 
suffered from several incidents involving fatalities to track workers 
and other employees. In addition, in May 2009, two trolleys in Boston 
collided, injuring 49 people, and in July 2009 two rail cars collided 
in San Francisco, injuring 48 people. 

The federal government does not directly regulate the safety of rail 
transit in the United States. However, in 1991, Congress required the 
Federal Transit Administration (FTA) within the U.S. Department of 
Transportation (DOT) to issue regulations requiring states to designate 
an oversight agency to oversee the safety and security of rail transit 
agencies and withhold federal funds if a state did not comply. Through 
the resulting State Safety Oversight (SSO) program, FTA requires states 
to designate an oversight agency to implement FTA safety and security 
oversight over rail transit agencies. In 2006, we testified on the SSO 
program and issued a report that made recommendations to improve the 
program.[Footnote 1] DOT plans to submit a proposal for legislation 
that, if passed, would result in a greater role for the department in 
regulating and overseeing safety of rail transit systems. 

My testimony today (1) summarizes the findings of our 2006 report and 
(2) provides our preliminary observations on key elements DOT has told 
us it will include in its legislative proposal for revamping rail 
transit safety oversight. In our observations, we cite key issues 
Congress may need to consider in determining whether or how to act on 
DOT's proposal. My comments are primarily based on our 2006 report; 
interviews with DOT officials about the department's plans for 
proposing a greater federal role in rail transit safety oversight; a 
review of related documents that we obtained; a comparison of key 
elements of the planned proposal with issues raised in our 2006 report; 
and our previous work on regulatory programs, DOT's transit programs, 
and efforts to oversee safety within the various modes of 
transportation. Our 2006 report was based on a survey of 27 state 
safety oversight agencies and transit agencies covered by FTA's program 
as well as reviews of program documentation and guidance and interviews 
with FTA, the National Transportation Safety Board, the American Public 
Transportation Association, the Transportation Security Administration 
(TSA), state safety oversight agencies, and transit agencies. We plan 
to issue a report on challenges in improving rail transit safety in 
fall 2010 for the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban 
Affairs. We conducted our prior and current work in accordance with 
generally accepted government auditing standards. Those standards 
require that we plan and perform the audit to obtain sufficient, 
appropriate evidence to provide a reasonable basis for our findings and 
conclusions based on our audit objectives. We believe that the evidence 
obtained provides a reasonable basis for our findings and conclusions 
based on our audit objectives. We provided a draft of our statement to 
the Department of Transportation and incorporated its comments as 
appropriate. 

In summary: 

* Our 2006 report found that officials from the majority of oversight 
and transit agencies stated that the SSO program enhances rail transit 
safety but that FTA faced several challenges in administering the 
program. FTA had not definitively shown that the program had enhanced 
safety, however, because it did not have performance goals and did not 
measure performance. Therefore, FTA had little information with which 
to track oversight agencies' performance over time. It has since taken 
steps to begin developing performance goals and metrics. Other 
challenges facing FTA in terms of assuring that the SSO program 
adequately oversees transit safety included that state oversight 
agencies received little or no funding from FTA and that some of them 
had limited funding for staff--in fact some required the transit 
agencies they oversaw to reimburse them for services. Also, expertise, 
staffing levels, and states' enforcement authority, e.g. fines, varied 
widely from agency to agency. As of 2006, 13 state oversight agencies 
were devoting the equivalent of less than one full-time employee to 
oversight functions. Finally, we found that transit and oversight 
agencies were confused about the role of FTA and TSA in overseeing 
security functions. 

* DOT plans to propose major changes in FTA's role that would shift the 
balance of federal and state responsibilities for oversight of rail 
transit safety. According to DOT officials, under this proposal, FTA 
would receive statutory authority to establish and enforce minimum 
standards. Still, FTA might not have to take on the enforcement role in 
all circumstances; states could become authorized to enforce these 
standards if FTA determines their programs are capable and financially 
independent of the transit system they oversee. FTA would provide 
financial assistance to approved programs. These changes would have the 
potential to address some challenges and issues we cited in our 2006 
report. For example, providing funding to participating state agencies 
could help them maintain an adequate number of trained staff. Also, 
providing FTA and participating states with enforcement authority could 
help ensure that transit systems take corrective actions when problems 
are found. Congress may need to consider several issues in deciding 
whether or how to act on DOT's proposal. These include: 

* determining what level of government, state or federal, is most 
capable of overseeing transit safety, 

* ensuring that FTA and state oversight agencies would have adequate 
and qualified staff to carry out the envisioned program, 

* determining which enforcement mechanisms are best for rail transit so 
that FTA or the state oversight agencies can ensure that identified 
safety problems are corrected before they lead to accidents, and: 

* understanding the budgetary implications of the program. 

Background: 

The SSO program covers all states with fixed guideway systems operating 
in their jurisdictions. FTA defines a rail fixed guideway system as any 
light, heavy, or rapid rail system, monorail, inclined plane, 
funicular, trolley, or automated guideway that is not regulated by the 
Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and is: 

* included in FTA's calculation of fixed guideway route miles, or: 

* receives funding under FTA's formula program for urbanized areas, or: 

* has submitted documentation to FTA indicating its intent to be 
included in FTA's calculation of fixed guideway route miles to receive 
funding under FTA's formula program for urbanized areas.[Footnote 2] 

Figure 1 shows the types of systems that are included in the SSO 
program. 

Figure 1: Examples of the Types of Rail Systems Included in the State 
Safety Oversight Program: 

[Refer to PDF for image: 6 photographs] 

Heavy Rail: Chicago Transit Authority L; 
Light Rail: Port Authority of Allegheny County T; 
Automated Guideway: Seattle Center Monorail; 
Inclined Plane: Port Authority of Allegheny County Duquesne Incline; 
Cable Car: San Francisco Municipal Railway Cable Car; 
Trolley: Kenosha Transit Trolley. 

Sources: PennDOT; Seattle Center Monorail; San Francisco Municipal 
Railway; GAO. 

[End of figure] 

In the SSO program, state oversight agencies are responsible for 
directly overseeing rail transit agencies. As of December 2009, 27 
state oversight agencies exist to oversee rail transit in 26 
states.[Footnote 3] According to FTA, states must designate an agency 
to perform this oversight function at the time FTA enters into a grant 
agreement for any "New Starts" project involving a new rail transit 
system, or before a transit agency applies for FTA formula funding. 
[Footnote 4] States have designated several different types of agencies 
to serve as oversight agencies, including state departments of 
transportation, public utilities commissions, or regional 
transportation funding authorities. FTA has a set of rules that an 
oversight agency must follow, such as developing a program standard 
that transit agencies must meet, reviewing transit agencies' safety and 
security plans, conducting safety audits, and investigating accidents. 
In the program, rail transit agencies are mainly responsible for 
meeting the program standards that oversight agencies set out for them, 
which generally include developing a separate safety and security plan, 
developing a hazard management process, reporting accidents to 
oversight agencies within 2 hours, and other similar tasks. Under the 
program, FTA provides limited funding to oversight agencies in only 
limited instances, generally for travel or training. While oversight 
agencies are to include security reviews as part of their 
responsibilities, TSA also has security oversight authority over 
transit agencies. (See figure 2 showing roles and responsibilities of 
participants in the program.) 

Figure 2: Roles and Responsibilities of Participants in the SSO 
Program: 

[Refer to PDF for image: illustration] 

FTA: 

1) State Safety Oversight 49 CFR Part 659: 
DHS and FRA provide related oversight functions; 
2) Conduct audit of state oversight agency and review annual, incident, 
and 3-year reviews. 

State Oversight Agency (SOA): 
1) Oversight agency designated by state; 
2) Develop a System Safety Program Standard (defines the relationship 
between the SOA and the transit agency); 
3) Review, approve, and monitor the implementation of the transit 
agencys plans; 
4) Require the transit agency to report the occurrence of accidents and 
unacceptable hazardous conditions within a period of time specified by 
the Standard; 
5) Require the transit agency to conduct internal safety audits; 
6) Conduct an on-site formal Triennial Safety Review of the transit 
agency; 
7) Require the transit agency to implement a Corrective Action Plan; 
8) Submit initial, annual and periodic reports to the FTA as required by
Part 659. 

Transit Agency: 
1) Develop and implement a system safety plan that complies with the 
SOA Standard and develop a system security plan; 
2) Classify hazardous conditions; 
3) Report any accidents and unacceptable hazardous conditions within 
the time frame specified by the SOA and investigate if necessary; 
4) Conduct internal safety and security reviews; 
5) Develop annual report and certification of compliance. 
6) Annually submit report on internal safety and security review, 
certification of compliance, hazard management program, and 3-year 
reviews; 
7) Obtain the SOAs approval of corrective action and implement plans. 

Source: GAO adaptation of State Safety Oversight Program Annual Report 
2003, FTA Office of Safety and Security. 

[End of figure] 

FTA's role in overseeing safety and security of rail transit is 
relatively limited. FTA relies on a staff member in its Office of 
Safety and Security to lead the SSO program. A program manager is 
responsible for the SSO program along with other duties. Additional FTA 
staff within the Office of Safety and Security assist with outreach to 
transit and oversight agencies and additional tasks. FTA regional 
personnel are not formally involved with the program's day-to-day 
activities, but officials from FTA regional offices help address 
specific compliance issues that occasionally arise and help states with 
new transit agencies establish new oversight agencies. FTA also relies 
on contractors to do many of the day-to-day activities, ranging from 
developing and implementing FTA's audit program of state oversight 
agencies to developing and providing training classes on system safety. 

Rail transit has been one of the safest modes of transportation in the 
United States. For example, according to DOT, in 2008, 57.7 people were 
injured traveling in motor vehicle accidents per 100 million miles 
traveled and 5.5 people were injured in commuter rail accidents per 100 
million miles traveled.[Footnote 5] For rail transit, the rate was 0.5 
people injured per 100 million miles traveled. The injury rate on rail 
transit has varied from 0.2 to 0.9 injuries per 100 million miles 
traveled since 2002. Also, the Washington Metro Red Line accident this 
summer marked the first fatalities involving a collision between two 
rail cars on a U.S. rail transit system in 8 years. However, according 
to FTA officials, the recent major incidents in Boston, San Francisco, 
and Washington have increased their concern about rail transit safety. 
In addition, FTA states that the number of derailments, worker 
injuries, and collisions has increased on rail transit systems as a 
whole in the last several years. 

Our 2006 Report Found Most Participants Stated That the State Safety 
Oversight Program Was Worthwhile but FTA Faced Several Challenges in 
Administering the Program Effectively: 

Our 2006 report found that officials from the majority of oversight and 
transit agencies with whom we spoke stated that the SSO program 
enhances rail transit safety. Officials at several transit agencies 
cited improvements in reducing the number of derailments, fires, and 
collisions through actions undertaken as a result of their work with 
state oversight agencies. However, despite this anecdotal evidence, FTA 
had not definitively shown that the program had enhanced safety because 
it had neither established performance goals nor tracked performance. 
Also, FTA had not audited each state oversight agency in the previous 3 
years, as the agency had stated it would. Therefore, FTA had little 
information with which to track oversight agencies' performance over 
time. We recommended that FTA set and monitor performance goals for the 
SSO program and keep to its stated schedule of auditing state oversight 
agencies at least once every 3 years. Although FTA officials pointed 
out that tracking safety performance would be challenging in an 
environment where fatalities and incidents were low, they agreed to 
implement our recommendation. FTA assigned the task to a contractor and 
said that it would make auditing oversight agencies a priority in the 
future. 

We also found that FTA faced several challenges in assuring the 
effectiveness of the program and recommending improvements to transit 
agency safety practices. 

Funding challenges limited staffing levels and effectiveness. Officials 
at several state oversight agencies we spoke with stated that since FTA 
provided little to no funding for rail transit safety oversight 
functions, and because of competing priorities for limited state funds, 
they were limited in the number of staff they could hire and the amount 
of training they could provide. While FTA requires that states operate 
safety oversight programs, capital and operating grants are not 
available to support existing state oversight agencies once passenger 
service commences. FTA, however, has begun to provide training for 
state oversight agency staff.[Footnote 6] With the current financial 
crises most states are experiencing, states face increasing challenges 
in providing adequate funding for state oversight agencies. Also, in 
our 2006 report, we found that 10 state oversight agencies relied on 
the transit agencies they oversaw for a portion of their budgets. In 
those cases, the oversight agencies required that the transit agency 
reimburse the oversight agency for its oversight expenses. 

Expertise varied across oversight agencies. The level of expertise 
amongst oversight staff varied widely. For example, we found that 11 
oversight agencies had staff with no previous career or educational 
background in transit safety or security. Conversely, another 11 
oversight agencies required their staff to have certain minimum levels 
of transportation education or experience, such as having 5 years of 
experience in the safety field or an engineering degree. In the 
agencies in which oversight officials had little or no experience in 
the field, officials reported that it took several years before they 
became confident that they knew enough about rail transit operations to 
provide effective oversight--a process that new staff would likely have 
to repeat when the current staff leave their positions. Officials from 
18 of the 24 oversight agencies with whom we spoke stated that 
additional training could be useful in providing more effective safety 
oversight. FTA, under the current system, does not have the authority 
to mandate a certain level of training for oversight agency staff. In 
response to our prior recommendation, FTA has created a recommended 
training curriculum and is encouraging oversight agency staff to 
successfully complete the curriculum and receive certification for 
having done so. 

Staffing levels varied across oversight agencies. The number of staff 
that oversight agencies devoted to safety oversight also varied. For 
example, we found that 13 oversight agencies dedicated less than one 
full-time equivalent (FTE) staff member to oversight. While in some 
cases the transit agencies overseen were small, such as a single 
streetcar line, we found one state that estimated it devoted 0.1 FTE to 
oversight of a transit agency that averaged 200,000 daily trips. 
Another state devoted 0.5 FTE to overseeing five different transit 
systems in two different cities. 

To help ensure that oversight agency staff were adequately trained for 
their duties, we recommended that FTA develop a suggested training 
curriculum for oversight agency staff and encourage those staff to 
complete it. FTA implemented our recommendation and over 50 percent of 
state oversight agencies have staff who have completed at least the 
first tier of this training. Still, the number of staff devoted to 
safety oversight remains potentially problematic. FTA currently does 
not require that states devote a certain level of staffing or financial 
resources to oversight; without additional funding from the federal 
government or another source, and due to the fiscal difficulties most 
states are now experiencing, it is unlikely states will independently 
increase staffing for safety oversight. FTA, however, has asked many 
SSO agencies to perform formal manpower assessments to ensure they have 
adequate resources devoted to oversight functions. 

Enforcement powers of oversight agencies varied. The individual 
authority each state oversight agency has over transit agencies varies 
widely. While the SSO program gives state oversight agencies authority 
to mandate certain rail safety practices, it does not give them 
authority to take enforcement actions, such as fining an agency or 
shutting down operations. Some states have given their oversight 
agencies such authority, however. In our 2006 report, we stated that 19 
of 27 oversight agencies had no punitive authority, such as authority 
to issue fines, and those that did have such authority stated that they 
rarely, if ever, used it. While taking punitive action against a rail 
transit agency could be counterproductive (by, for instance, 
withholding already limited funding), several oversight agency 
officials told us the threat of such action could potentially make 
their agencies more effective and other DOT modal administrations with 
safety oversight authority can level fines or take other punitive 
action against the entities they oversee. 

Confusion existed about agency responsibilities for security oversight. 
Our 2006 report also found that the transit and oversight agencies were 
confused about the role TSA would take in overseeing security and what 
role would be left to the state oversight agencies, if any. We made 
recommendations to TSA and FTA to coordinate their security oversight 
activities. The agencies agreed and FTA officials reported they are now 
coordinating their audits with TSA. 

Preliminary Observations on DOT's Plans For Revamping Rail Transit 
Safety Oversight and Key Issues Congress May Need to Consider: 

DOT is planning to propose major changes in FTA's role that would shift 
the balance of federal and state responsibilities for setting safety 
standards for rail transit agencies and overseeing their compliance 
with those standards. Based on information provided to us by DOT, the 
department plans to propose a new federal safety program for rail 
transit, at an unspecified future date, with the following key 
elements: 

* FTA, through legislation, would receive authority to establish and 
enforce minimum safety standards for rail transit systems not already 
regulated by FRA. 

* States could become authorized to enforce the federal minimum safety 
standards by submitting a program proposal to FTA and receiving 
approval of their program. In determining whether to approve state 
safety programs, FTA would consider a state's capability to undertake 
rail transit oversight, including staff capacity, and its financial 
independence from the transit systems it oversees. DOT would provide 
federal assistance to approved state safety programs. Participating 
states could set more stringent safety standards if they choose to do 
so. 

* In states that decide to "opt out" of participation or where DOT has 
found the program proposals inadequate, FTA would oversee compliance 
with and enforce federal safety regulations. 

These changes would give FTA the authority to directly regulate rail 
transit safety and, in cooperation with the states, to oversee and 
enforce compliance by rail transit systems with these regulations. 
These changes would bring its authority more in line with that of other 
modal administrations within DOT. For example, FRA, Federal Motor 
Carrier Safety Administration, Federal Aviation Administration, and 
Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration promulgate 
regulations and technical standards that govern how vehicles or 
facilities in their respective modes must be operated or constructed. 
In addition, each of these agencies use federal or state inspectors, or 
a combination of both, to determine compliance with the safety 
regulations and guidance they issue. Finally, these agencies can 
mandate corrective actions and levy fines to transportation operators, 
among other actions, for noncompliance with regulations. 

The new program DOT is planning to propose has the potential to address 
some challenges and issues we cited in our 2006 report. The 
consideration of staffing levels in deciding whether to approve states' 
proposed programs and the provision of funds to approved programs could 
increase levels of staffing. Requiring that participating states not 
receive funds from transit agencies would make the state agencies more 
independent of the transit agencies they oversee. Providing FTA and 
participating states with the authority to enforce minimum federal 
safety standards across the nation's transit systems could help ensure 
compliance with the standards and improved safety practices, and might 
prevent some accidents as a result. 

While the new program, as envisioned by DOT, may have some potential 
benefits, our work on the SSO program, other transit programs, and 
regulatory programs suggests there are a number of issues Congress may 
need to consider in deciding whether or how to act on DOT's proposal. 

* Roles of the states versus FTA. The following questions would need to 
be considered when determining whether changes are needed in the 
balance of federal versus state responsibility for establishing rail 
transit safety: 

- Are uniform federal standards and nationwide coverage essential to 
achieving rail transit safety? 

- Which level of government, state or federal, has the capacity to do 
the job at hand, taking into account such factors as resources and 
enforcement powers? 

In addition, shifting federal-state responsibilities for oversight of 
rail transit safety would bring a number of operational challenges. 
These include finding the appropriate level of FTA oversight of state 
programs and allocating costs between the federal government and the 
states. The new oversight system to be proposed would potentially 
involve major changes in the way states interact with FTA in overseeing 
transit safety. The new balance of state and federal responsibilities 
could take some time for transit agencies to adjust to, especially 
those that would now be reporting directly to federal officials. 

* Adequate staff with needed skills. FTA would need to ensure it has 
adequate qualified staff to oversee safety under the new program, 
especially in states that opt out of participating in the new program. 
FTA's current safety staff is very small as is the staff devoted to 
rail transit safety oversight in most state agencies. Building the 
capability within FTA, its contractors, and these state agencies to 
develop and carry out the envisioned program would pose a number of 
challenges. However, the actions FTA has taken in response to our 2006 
recommendation to institute a training curriculum for oversight agency 
staff, would give it a head start on this process. 

* Enforcement. Congress would need to determine which enforcement 
mechanisms to authorize FTA to use and FTA would need to develop an 
enforcement approach that makes the best use of these enforcement 
mechanisms. Other DOT modal administrations with safety oversight 
responsibilities, such as the Federal Aviation Administration and FRA, 
are authorized to issue fines or civil penalties to operators that 
violate regulations. However, transit agencies are usually publicly 
owned and face many financial challenges. As a result, fines and 
penalties could be counterproductive to enhancing safety when funding 
is at a premium and local riders or taxpayers ultimately could bear the 
cost of fines. Other enforcement tools are options. For example, FRA 
may order a locomotive, freight car, or passenger car out of service or 
may send warning letters to individuals if a safety violation is found, 
among other enforcement actions. 

* Cost. According to FTA officials, their estimates of the total cost 
of the new program the department plans to propose are very 
preliminary. Better estimates of what, if any, costs that states would 
bear under the new system will also be important before moving forward 
with this proposal. This could include considering any estimated costs 
the federal government would incur under various scenarios based on how 
many states opt out and how many new federal employees or contractors 
would be required under each scenario to act as trainers, inspectors, 
and administrative staff. Currently, states bear most of the costs for 
transit safety oversight. Determining these additional costs would be 
added as the federal and state governments face significant increasing 
fiscal pressures. Further, it is uncertain how the program will be paid 
for. Congress will need to determine if riders, states, those who pay 
taxes to the Highway Trust Fund, or the Department of the Treasury, or 
a combination of sources, would bear the cost of this program. 

In addition to the issues that Congress may need to address, FTA would 
face some challenges in implementing a new system of transit safety 
oversight. These include: 

* Variations in the different types of transit. The U.S. rail transit 
system consists of several different types of vehicles, from heavy and 
light rail to monorails and funiculars or inclined planes. These 
vehicles operate on different kinds of track with different power 
sources and can vary from new modern vehicles to vehicles that are 30 
or more years old. Setting federal safety regulations for these varying 
systems could be a lengthy process and could require multiple parallel 
rulemakings. 

* Transition to the new system. If the new safety oversight system is 
approved, it will take some time to transition to the new system. 
States currently performing safety oversight that opt out in favor of 
federal oversight will likely need to continue to perform their 
oversight functions until FTA has additional staff and an enforcement 
mechanism in place. However, a state may be less likely to replace 
staff who leave or ensure staff in place stay adequately trained if the 
state is in the process of giving over its oversight responsibilities 
to FTA. While the likely effect of this may be minimal, this situation 
could create the possibility of relaxed oversight during the transition 
period. 

As part of our ongoing review of challenges to improving rail transit 
safety, we will review states' and FTA's current efforts to oversee and 
enhance rail transit safety as well as DOT's efforts to strengthen the 
federal role in overseeing rail transit safety. 

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

For further information on this statement, please contact David J. Wise 
at (202) 512-2834 or wised@gao.gov. Contact points for our 
Congressional Relations and Public Affairs offices may be found on the 
last page of this statement. Individuals making key contributions to 
this testimony were Catherine Colwell, Judy Guilliams-Tapia, and 
Raymond Sendejas, Assistant Directors; Timothy Bober; Martha Chow; 
Antoine Clark; Colin Fallon; Kathleen Gilhooly; David Goldstein; Joah 
Iannotta; Hannah Laufe; Sara Ann Moessbauer; and Stephanie Purcell. 

[End of section] 

Footnotes: 

[1] GAO, Rail Transit: Observations on FTA's State Safety Oversight 
Program, [hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-06-997T] 
(Washington, D.C.: July 19, 2006) and Rail Transit: Additional Federal 
Leadership Would Enhance FTA's State Safety Oversight Program, 
[hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-06-821] (Washington, D.C.: 
July 26, 2006). 

[2] 49 C.F.R.  659.5. 

[3] One state, Illinois, has two oversight agencies, each overseeing a 
different rail transit agency. 

[4] New Starts refers to capital investment grants that fund new fixed 
guideway capital projects (49 U.S.C.  5309). 

[5] Commuter rail is a type of public transit that is characterized by 
passenger trains operating on railroad tracks and providing regional 
service (e.g., between a central city and adjacent suburbs). 

[6] FTA also provides some funding for new oversight agencies during 
their start-up process and before passenger service commences on the 
transit agencies they oversee. 

[End of section] 

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