Railroad Safety:

More FRA Oversight Needed to Ensure Rail Safety in Region 2

RCED-90-140: Published: Apr 27, 1990. Publicly Released: May 4, 1990.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the effectiveness of the Federal Railroad Administration's (FRA) Region 2 hazardous materials inspection program.

GAO found that FRA Region 2: (1) did not establish inspection frequency goals and maintain complete, updated lists of hazardous materials inspection points; (2) did not inspect 70 percent of its inspection points in 1987 and 1988; (3) did not have enough inspectors to effectively carry out its inspection program; (4) inspectors prioritized inspections depending on risk, volume, type of hazardous materials, and safety history; and (5) inspectors did not have sufficient knowledge of the scope of FRA inspection responsibilities or information on hazardous materials shippers. GAO also found that: (1) rail system assessments required more resources to evaluate rail safety training and operations; (2) routine inspections most often identified such problems as improper shipping documentation and tank car unloading and identification; (3) FRA relied on the rail industry to enforce speed rules and provided little oversight of railroad speed enforcement actions; and (4) FRA based its hazardous materials routing policy on whether the advantages of reducing public exposure outweighed the disadvantages of diverting traffic to unsafe tracks.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: All eight FRA regions have updated their inspection-point lists. FRA has completed data collection regarding the inspection points for all disciplines. FRA will not use these data to correct deficiencies noted by GAO.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FRA, to reemphasize in Region 2 that inspectors add newly identified inspection points to their inspection-point lists and keep those lists updated so that the inspection goals and priorities can be set to maximize the use of scarce inspector resources.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: FRA does not plan to take action on this recommendation, stating that its involvement in the railroads' operating decisions would be an administrative nightmare with no provable safety benefits.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FRA, to establish a policy of enforcing train speed limits by citing railroads for exceeding speed limits permitted by the declared classification or track's curvature.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: FRA does not plan to act on this recommendation, stating that it regularly examines records of railroad enforcement and resulting disciplinary actions.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FRA, to increase oversight of railroad speed enforcement actions by: (1) requiring railroads to report information on the amount their speed limits are exceeded in failed tests and the number and types of disciplinary actions taken against employees who speed; and (2) establishing standards for acceptable failure rates in speed tests conducted by railroads, how speed tests should be conducted, and what types of disciplinary action should be taken when failures occur.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

 

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