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Highlights

GAO discussed the Federal Railroad Administration's (FRA) enforcement program, overall inspection program, and hazardous materials inspections. GAO noted that: (1) the FRA enforcement program did not comply with federal safety regulations, since an increasing number of safety defects and violations were recurring each year at the same railroads; (2) at the end of 1989, the civil penalty process took about 36 months per case to review, due to a backlog of about 18,000 violations awaiting review and 6,000 awaiting settlement; and (3) FRA had no assurance that railroads and shippers would follow regulations established to promote the safe transportation of hazardous materials and ensure that containers were appropriately manufactured. GAO also noted that the FRA inspection program was not effective because it did not: (1) comply with inspection coverage standards; (2) target railroads for inspections based on available accident and inspection data; (3) include a mandatory inspection follow-up program or require railroads to respond in writing about corrective actions taken on safety problems; (4) uniformly apply safety regulations throughout the industry; or (5) enforce maximum speed limits for track sections. GAO believes that: (1) FRA plans to use current inspection data to target recurring safety problems at specific locations on specific railroads; and (2) if properly implemented, the FRA actions will result in a more effective rail safety program.

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