Railroad Safety:

Accident Trends and FRA Safety Programs

T-RCED-92-23: Published: Jan 13, 1992. Publicly Released: Jan 13, 1992.

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GAO discussed railroad safety, focusing on: (1) four bills to prevent railroad accidents; and (2) railroad accident trends over the past 10 years. GAO noted that: (1) although the number of reportable rail accidents has decreased by about two-thirds from the 1980 high of 8,451, accidents increased from 2,647 in 1987 to 3,045 in 1990; (2) the Federal Railroad Administration's (FRA) enforcement program does not ensure that railroads complied with federal safety regulations; (3) since FRA lacks guidance regarding standard inspections and the size of territory an inspector can cover, some railroads go uninspected, FRA does not know whether it has adequate staffing, and inspectors do not uniformly apply safety regulations; (4) FRA has taken such corrective actions to correct program deficiencies as drafting a National Inspection Plan and developing standardized inspection guidance; and (5) in November 1990, the Hazardous Materials Transportation Safety Act mandated that the Research and Special Programs Administration establish a shipper registration program for hazardous materials shippers. GAO also noted that the proposed legislation would require: (1) railroads to timely report corrective actions; (2) the Department of Transportation (DOT) to designate all of the hazardous materials on the Coast Guard's lists as hazardous for overland transportation; (3) DOT to designate metam sodium as a hazardous material for overland transportation; and (4) DOT and the Environmental Protection Agency to add environmental harm to the list of risks that their hazardous materials laws regulate.

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