The Federal Approach to Rail Safety Inspection and Enforcement:

Time for Change

CED-82-51: Published: Apr 19, 1982. Publicly Released: Apr 19, 1982.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the program, policies, and practices of the Federal Railroad Administration's (FRA) rail safety program.

FRA is not accomplishing its goal of ensuring railroad safety by monitoring the railroads' safety efforts. The Federal Safety Enforcement Program mainly involves making individual routine inspections of track or railcars. These inspections often result in identifying defects and suggesting enforcement actions. However, the narrow focus of this approach, the limited inspection force, and the questionable deterrent value of the violations process have not encouraged broad-based railroad compliance with safety standards. The program's primary effect has been to get individual defects corrected and not to motivate railroads to improve their overall safety programs. If FRA shifted its emphasis from the program of individual inspections to broad-based systems assessments which were comprehensive evaluations of the railroads' entire systems and operations, the program would be more effective and deficiencies could be brought to the attention of the railroads' top management. Many inspectors are unable to cover their assigned territories due to a lack of consistency in the size of the territories, vacant inspector positions, travel fund restrictions, and unreliable railroad inspection records. The deterrent value of the violations process is questionable due to a reporting system that does not have adequate controls. A program whereby FRA reimburses state governments for up to 50 percent of the expenses for state railroad inspectors needs improvement.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should require the Administrator, FRA, to select railroads for broad-based system assessments based on factors beyond accidents and injury data. These would include information such as high defect ratios, defects not being corrected, higher numbers of complaints, and knowledge obtained by inspectors during individual, routine inspections.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should require the Administrator, FRA, to determine the scope of the individual broad-based system assessments based on comprehensive planning that considers all information available on a railroad's safety performance, including the adequacy of railroad inspection records.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should require the Administrator, FRA, to periodically reexamine the allocation of federal inspectors until a shifting of inspector resources to system assessments is achieved.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FRA, to establish goals for the timely processing of violation reports at all levels and to monitor staff ability to meet these goals.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FRA, to monitor the status and disposition of violation reports at all phases of the civil penalty process.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FRA, to require the Chief Counsel and the Associate Administrator for Safety to provide the regional offices with a monthly list of all violation reports received.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  7. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should require the Chief Counsel to notify the originating regional office when a violation is terminated in claims conference and provide the reason.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  8. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FRA, prior to attempting to significantly expand the program, to determine, based on factors such as the flow of hazardous materials, density of passenger and freight traffic, and number of accidents and causes, the number of state inspectors for which FRA can provide reimbursement.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  9. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FRA, prior to attempting to significantly expand the program, to assign or reassign federal inspectors based, in part, on changes in the level of state participation.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  10. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should require the Administrator, FRA, to decrease emphasis on individual, routine inspections and allocate a larger proportion of inspector resources to system assessments.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  11. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FRA, prior to attempting to significantly expand the program, to broaden the scope of periodic assessments of the state participation program to assess, among other things, the consistency in state enforcement.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

 

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