Railroad Safety:

Weaknesses Exist in FRA's Enforcement Program

RCED-91-72: Published: Mar 22, 1991. Publicly Released: Apr 12, 1991.

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Kenneth M. Mead
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO examined the adequacy of the Federal Railroad Administration's (FRA) enforcement program, focusing on its: (1) compliance with safety regulations; (2) implementation; and (3) timeliness in reviewing, transmitting, and settling penalties.

GAO found that FRA: (1) did not effectively ensure compliance with federal safety regulations through its enforcement program; (2) identified an increasing number of safety defects and violations despite an overall decline in railroad equipment, track, and employment; (3) repeatedly identified the same types of safety problems at the same railroads, including defective track, cracked or broken bars, disregard of operating rules and practices, and unsafe locomotives; (4) inspectors did not uniformly apply safety rules and regulations; (5) did not timely review, transmit, and settle civil penalties, partly due to a backlog of about 24,000 violations; and (6) could adopt a speedier civil penalty process by having its regional offices formally notify railroads of violations and penalty assessments, and eliminating the need for the Office of Chief Counsel's review.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Backlog of violations has been eliminated, cases are being settled sooner, and compliance histories are being prepared.

    Recommendation: To make the FRA railroad safety enforcement program more effective in helping to ensure future compliance, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FRA, to establish a penalty process that: (1) quickly notifies railroads of penalty assessments; (2) considers the railroad's compliance history when negotiating penalty settlements; and (3) settles civil penalty cases expeditiously.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation


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