Railroad Safety:

Accidents in Pennsylvania and Related Federal Enforcement Actions

RCED-89-52: Published: Nov 3, 1988. Publicly Released: Nov 4, 1988.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO: (1) developed statistical profiles of railroad safety in Pennsylvania and nationwide; and (2) reviewed the Federal Railroad Administration's (FRA) investigations of railroad accidents in Pennsylvania from January 1987 through January 1988.

GAO found that: (1) between 1984 and 1987, railroad accidents and incidents decreased overall nationwide and in Pennsylvania; (2) there were slight increases in the number of train derailments, highway crossing accidents, and accidents, involving hazardous materials in Pennsylvania from 1986 to 1987; (3) it was unable to determine whether the absolute increase in train accidents in Pennsylvania represented an increase in accident rates, because FRA lacked regional or statewide data on the level of train operations; and (4) FRA could use state and regional accident rate data to detect deviations from national accident rates and rail safety within a state or region. GAO also found that: (1) FRA cited a safety standard violation in 1 of the 21 accidents it investigated and fined the carrier the maximum amount because the carrier had prior knowledge of a defective track that caused a derailment; (2) FRA took no enforcement action in 11 of 14 accidents because available evidence did not meet its requirements for standards violations, or the accidents were caused by track irregularities that were within the allowable ranges; and (3) it could not adequately assess FRA policies in investigating train accidents in Pennsylvania due to limited data.

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