Skip to Highlights
Highlights

Freight railroads account for over 40 percent (by weight) of the nation's freight on a privately owned network that was largely built almost 100 years ago and includes over 76,000 railroad bridges and over 800 tunnels. As requested, GAO provides information on this infrastructure, addressing (1) the information that is available on the condition of railroad bridges and tunnels and on their contribution to railroad congestion, (2) the federal role in overseeing railroad bridge and tunnel safety, (3) the current uses of public funds for railroad infrastructure investments, and (4) criteria and a framework for guiding any future federal role in freight infrastructure investments. GAO reviewed federal bridge safety guidelines and reports, conducted site visits, and interviewed federal, state, railroad, and other officials.

Skip to Recommendations

Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Transportation To enhance the effectiveness of its bridge and tunnel safety oversight function, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration to devise a systematic, consistent, risk-based methodology for selecting railroads for its bridge safety surveys to ensure that it includes railroads that are at higher risk of not following the FRA's bridge safety guidelines and of having bridge and tunnel safety issues.
Closed - Implemented
In response to our recommendation, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) took several actions. First, it issued a notice in the June 18, 2008 Federal Register (citing our recommendation) seeking approval to collect information from all U.S. railroads that will be used to implement the FRA's revised methodology and factors for selecting railroads for FHWA's bridge surveys and evaluations. The revised methodology uses new factors for prioritizing and selecting railroads based on relative importance and risk. These factors include length of a railroad in miles; the number, types, and total length of the railroad's bridges; level of traffic; presence of hazardous material traffic; operation of passenger trains; and railroad's record of train accidents. In addition, to strengthen the railroad bridge safety program, the Railroad Safety Action Committee--a joint FRA/railroad industry group--has recommended that the Administrator of the FRA add certain essential elements to FRA's guidelines for railroad bridge safety including, among other things, maintaining a detailed bridge inventory, keeping permanent records of bridge design and repairs, and documenting bridge inspection procedures. As of September 2008, FRA's Office of Safety is preparing a notice to put in the Code of Federal Regulations to implement the committee's recommendation. The FRA also purchased a copy of the American Railroad Engineering and Maintenance Association's new Bridge Management Manual for every regional and short line railroad in the United States. As a result of these actions, the FRA will be able to better identify and help those railroads that are most at risk for railroad bridge safety problems.
Department of Transportation To help better focus limited federal resources, the Secretary of Transportation should ensure that its draft Framework for a National Freight Policy includes clear national goals for federal involvement in freight-related infrastructure investments across all modes, including freight railroad investments.
Closed - Not Implemented
Department of Transportation (DOT) officials have stated that DOT has worked to define its role in freight policy to the extent it is enabled by statute, but further Congressional direction is necessary to fully implement this recommendation. While the Department may propose legislation or work with Congress on the next surface transportation reauthorization bill to address this recommendation, DOT officials have stated that DOT has moved past its proposed framework for a national freight policy as a document that guides its freight policy. As DOT has not yet proposed and Congress has not initiated any legislation to implement this recommendation, we are closing it as not implemented. However, we may revisit this status if any future action is taken that would address this recommendation.
Department of Transportation To help better focus limited federal resources, the Secretary of Transportation should ensure that its draft Framework for a National Freight Policy establishes and clearly defines roles for all public and private stakeholders.
Closed - Not Implemented
Department of Transportation (DOT) officials have stated that DOT has worked to define its role in freight policy to the extent it is enabled by statute, but further Congressional direction is necessary to fully implement this recommendation. While the Department may propose legislation or work with Congress on the next surface transportation reauthorization bill to address this recommendation, DOT officials have stated that DOT has moved past its proposed framework for a national freight policy as a document that guides its freight policy and that they have no intention of clearly defining roles for all public and private stakeholders in the freight transportation system. Given these statements and that DOT has not yet proposed and Congress has not yet acted on any legislation to implement this recommendation, we are closing it as not implemented. However, we may revisit this status if any future action is taken that would address this recommendation.
Department of Transportation To help better focus limited federal resources, the Secretary of Transportation should ensure that its draft Framework for a National Freight Policy identifies funding mechanisms for federal freight-related infrastructure investments, including freight railroad investments, which provide the highest return in national public benefits for limited federal expenditures.
Closed - Not Implemented
Department of Transportation (DOT) officials have stated that DOT has worked to define its role in freight policy to the extent it is enabled by statute, but further Congressional direction is necessary to fully implement this recommendation. While DOT may propose legislation or work with Congress on the next surface transportation reauthorization bill to address this recommendation, DOT officials have stated that DOT has moved past its proposed framework for a national freight policy as a document that guides its freight policy. As DOT has not yet proposed and Congress has not initiated any legislation to implement this recommendation, we are closing it as not implemented. However, we may revisit this status if any future action is taken that would address this recommendation.

Full Report

GAO Contacts