Railroad Safety:

DOD Can Improve the Safety of On-Base Track and Equipment

RCED-91-135: Published: Jun 20, 1991. Publicly Released: Jul 26, 1991.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO examined the safety of the Department of Defense's (DOD) railroad equipment, focusing on: (1) the condition of track systems on military installations; and (2) compliance with Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) safety standards.

GAO found that: (1) DOD has not adopted FRA safety standards or developed its own uniform safety criteria; (2) despite its noncompliance with FRA standards, DOD rail equipment did not pose a risk of failure, but could pose risks to operating personnel; (3) although the equipment did not meet FRA safety standards, Army and Navy officials noted that the on-base fleet was safe, since it operated under less stressful conditions than commercial equipment, but DOD lacked minimum safety standards commensurate with those less severe conditions; (4) 38 percent to 98 percent of the 3,441 rail cars assigned at 33 DOD installations were not roadworthy, as measured by FRA safety standards, due to a lack of safety appliances, defective brake systems, component defects, and use of restricted equipment, and none of the 24 locomotives reviewed complied with all applicable safety standards; (5) Army and Navy maintenance standards were vague and conflicting, and maintenance personnel did not know which standards to use; (6) DOD, the Army, and the Navy lacked established equipment safety standards to ensure against fire hazards; (7) the Navy provided detailed blocking and bracing instructions for securing hazardous materials, but none of the three Army installations visited had developed such instructions; (8) at the seven installations visited, 76 percent of the derailments or other accidents were partially attributed to defective track; (9) track conditions were adequate for posted speed limits but routine preventive maintenance was generally not performed; and (10) Army and Navy officials noted that they lacked the funds or staff to inspect and maintain track to meet FRA requirements.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: New DOD guidance establishes no procedures to verify that hazardous materials are properly secured. The Army's interim guidance calls for verification methods that are "prudent, visible, and recordable." New DOD procedures will be published in 1994. At that time, personnel will be expected to fully implement the new procedures.

    Recommendation: To help ensure the safe transport of hazardous material by rail on military installations, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Army and Navy to establish and implement procedures to verify that hazardous cargo is properly secured before on-base movement.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Army issued interim guidance on blocking and bracing on July 21, 1992.

    Recommendation: To help ensure the safe transport of hazardous material by rail on military installations, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Army to establish technical guidance for blocking and bracing ammunition and explosives on rail cars and ensure that the guidance is followed at its weapons handling installations.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: New DOD guidance does not determine, nor does it call for a determination of, the specific RSPA components for rail cars needed to ensure safe on-base transport of hazardous materials. DOD plans no further action.

    Recommendation: To help ensure the safe transport of hazardous material by rail on military installations, the Secretary of Defense should determine the specific Research and Special Programs Administration (RSPA)-required rail car components that are needed to provide an adequate margin of fire safety and require that all on-base cars transporting ammunition and explosives have such components within a reasonable period of time.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The new DOD guidance addresses only inspections of hazardous materials and does not define the "uniform technical standards" that the guidance says should be enforced. DOD plans no additional action on this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To ensure the safe operation of the DOD on-base fleet, the Secretary of Defense should direct rail equipment inspectors in all services to inspect to the departmentwide standards, once they are developed.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: A DOD-wide policy was issued September 23, 1991, and implementing procedures are still being considered. Rather than adopting FRA dedicated service standards as recommended, DOD adopted FRA commercial standards. Because bringing the DOD on-base fleet into compliance may be cost-prohibitive, it is questionable whether safety-related repairs will be done in the foreseeable future.

    Recommendation: To ensure the safe operation of the DOD on-base fleet, the Secretary of Defense should develop and implement departmentwide safety standards for operating and maintaining on-base rail cars that incorporate FRA safety appliance and brake system standards. The standards should define operating conditions that are consistent with the FRA dedicated service exclusion.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: New DOD guidance does not specify how it will comply with FRA regulations, and no implementing procedures are being developed at the department or service levels. DOD is taking no further action.

    Recommendation: To ensure the safety of track on military installations, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Army and Navy to inspect and maintain tracks in compliance with FRA standards for the track classes associated with the posted train speeds on military installations. Such compliance should encompass not only the physical condition of the track but also the inspection frequency, repair frequency, and inspector qualification requirements that are included in FRA regulations.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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