Amtrak Safety:

Amtrak Should Implement Minimum Safety Standards for Passenger Cars

RCED-93-196: Published: Sep 22, 1993. Publicly Released: Sep 22, 1993.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO examined whether the: (1) National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak) has effective procedures for inspecting, repairing, and maintaining its passenger cars to ensure safe operation; and (2) Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) provides adequate oversight to ensure the safety of Amtrak's passenger cars.

GAO found that: (1) Amtrak's Mechanical Department is responsible for ensuring that locomotives and passenger cars meet FRA and Amtrak safety standards; (2) Amtrak standards have been incorporated into a system of procedures and controls to ensure that passenger cars are in compliance; (3) Amtrak controls are ineffective because Amtrak employees do not document repairs or supervisory review of the inspection process; (4) some standards are disregarded when parts are not available or there is insufficient time for repairs before a car is placed into service; (5) budget cuts have forced layoffs in overhaul personnel and caused Amtrak's passenger car fleet to be past due for maintenance overhauls; and (6) FRA does not have minimum safety standards for mechanical components on passenger cars because FRA officials believe this is an Amtrak-only issue that can be addressed informally.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Amtrak has established safety standards as of January 1, 1994, that clearly define a safety-critical threshold beyond which a car may not be operated.

    Recommendation: The President of Amtrak should establish a safety standard that identifies a minimum threshold beyond which a passenger car may not be operated.

    Agency Affected: National Railroad Passenger Corporation (AMTRAK)

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Amtrak has printed its safety standards on laminated cards and distributed the cards to Mechanical Department personnel responsible for inspecting and repairing cars and locomotives. Amtrak supervisors are required to monitor personnel to ensure that the standards are met.

    Recommendation: The President of Amtrak should establish and implement procedures to ensure that cars do not operate unless they are in compliance with this safety standard.

    Agency Affected: National Railroad Passenger Corporation (AMTRAK)

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: FRA's actions do not include a study of the need to regulate passenger safety that includes all providers, although it plans to study Amtrak. In GAO's view, Amtrak is responding well to the recommendations on safety and FRA would not benefit from a study of Amtrak. FRA does not know whether other providers, such as commuter railroads, should be regulated regarding passenger car safety. A study of these carriers is needed. But FRA has no plans for such a study.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the FRA Administrator to conduct a study that considers all passenger service providers in assessing the need for establishing minimum criteria for the condition of safety-critical components on passenger cars.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In 1994, the Congress enacted legislation that directed the Federal Railroad Administration to complete rulemaking governing passenger car safety.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the FRA Administrator to establish any passenger car component regulations that the study shows to be advisable, taking into account any internal safety standards developed by Amtrak or others that pertain to passenger car components.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

 

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