Railroad Safety:

New Approach Needed for Effective FRA Safety Inspection Program

RCED-90-194: Published: Jul 31, 1990. Publicly Released: Sep 10, 1990.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Federal Railroad Administration's (FRA) railroad safety inspection program, focusing on: (1) inspection coverage standards; (2) how FRA used data to target railroads for inspection; (3) follow-up actions taken on inspection results; and (4) uniformity in the application of safety regulations.

GAO found that FRA did not: (1) provide assurance that railroads were operating safely under the safety inspection program; (2) establish minimum inspection coverage standards defining the frequency of railroad inspections or standards for the size of the territory an inspector was expected to cover; (3) analyze existing inspection and accident data to target railroads for inspection; (4) require railroads to report actions taken to correct safety defects; (5) routinely perform follow-up inspections to determine whether safety defects were corrected; and (6) uniformly apply safety regulations, which resulted in FRA regions filing different numbers of violations for the same defective safety conditions.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: If the new rail safety legislation is passed in October 1992 as expected, this recommendation will be implemented as an "alternative action" and an accomplishment report will be prepared.

    Recommendation: In order to make the FRA railroad safety inspection program more effective in ensuring that the nation's railroads are operating safely, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FRA, to establish an effective follow-up program that would include: (1) requiring railroads to report actions taken on FRA inspection findings; (2) determining what reinspection levels are needed to ensure that railroads are responding to inspection findings; and (3) attaching civil penalties for failure to report corrective actions.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Follow-up criteria were included in the draft assessment guidelines discussed with FRA regional directors. These guidelines have been issued.

    Recommendation: In order to make the FRA railroad safety inspection program more effective in ensuring that the nation's railroads are operating safely, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FRA, to complete system assessment follow-up reviews within the time frames established by FRA criteria.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: A new policy on FRA system assessments has been issued.

    Recommendation: In order to make the FRA railroad safety inspection program more effective in ensuring that the nation's railroads are operating safely, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FRA, to redefine the approach to system assessments by using existing inspection data to detect known areas of weakness and assign inspector resources to determine the underlying causes of those weaknesses.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: This recommendation was implemented through the new FRA National Inspection Plan, which went into effect on December 31, 1991.

    Recommendation: In order to make the FRA railroad safety inspection program more effective in ensuring that the nation's railroads are operating safely, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FRA, to use its safety data to target high-risk railroads and locations for routine inspections.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FRA completed its National Inspection Plan and had transmitted all parts to the regions by December 31, 1991.

    Recommendation: In order to make the FRA railroad safety inspection program more effective in ensuring that the nation's railroads are operating safely, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FRA, to improve its National Inspection Plan by developing a methodology that incorporates past inspection results and prioritizes inspections on the volume of traffic on passenger and hazardous materials routes.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In late 1990, FRA reinstated regular meetings with state inspectors, and these inspectors are being invited to settlement conferences on civil penalties they initiated. FRA is also involving state inspectors in FRA training programs.

    Recommendation: In order to make the FRA railroad safety inspection program more effective in ensuring that the nation's railroads are operating safely, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FRA, to resolve communication and coordination problems with the states by routinely exchanging inspection plans and periodically meeting with state directors and inspectors to discuss their inspection activities.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FRA's efforts to identify all inspection points and volume of activity at each point are now ended, although not entirely complete. The data are used to set hourly inspection goals but are not used to allocate inspection resources. FRA is aware of the size of the state inspector workforce and, by establishing territories for FRA inspectors, avoids duplicating state inspections. However, FRA has stated that it will not include state inspectors in setting its inspection goals.

    Recommendation: In order to make the FRA railroad safety inspection program more effective in ensuring that the nation's railroads are operating safely, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FRA, to establish a minimum inspection coverage standard for each of its inspection disciplines and determine the number of inspectors necessary to achieve this standard of coverage. In determining the number of inspectors needed, FRA needs to determine the projected size of the state inspector work force and include this in its coverage analysis.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  8. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FRA hired a Director of Training and Communications, who has developed a new training program. Also, according to FRA, it has revised its enforcement manuals for five inspection disciplines to provide better guidance for the exercise of inspector judgment in the enforcement process.

    Recommendation: In order for FRA to ensure better uniformity of inspections, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FRA, to increase training, especially for new inspectors, and to issue formal guidance to inspectors reemphasizing the need for uniformity in citing violations.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

 

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