Railroad Safety: More FRA Oversight Needed to Ensure Rail Safety in Region 2

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1990-04-27.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                          United    States   General   Accounting   Office

GAO                       Report to the Honorable
                          William J. Coyne, House of

April   1990
                          RAILROAD SAFETY
                          More FRA Oversight
                          Needed to Ensure Rail
                          Safety in Region 2

                                   RE$TRImD      -Not    to be released outside the
                                   General Aeeo~king Office unless SpecifIcally
                                   approved by the Offke of Congressional

GAO/RCED-90-        140
                   United States
                   General Accounting  Office
                   Washington, D.C. 20548

                   Resources, Community,          and
                   Economic Development           Division


                   April 27, 1990

                   The Honorable William J. Coyne
                   House of Representatives

                   Dear Mr. Coyne:

                   In November 1988, we issued a report to you and other congressional
                   members entitled Railroad Safety: Accidents in Pennsylvania and
                   Related Federal Enforcement Actions (GAO/RCED-89-52).     Concerned
                   about rail safety in Pennsylvania and surrounding states, especially the
                   transportation of hazardous materials, you subsequently asked us to
                   determine the adequacy of selected facets of the Federal Railroad
                   Administration’s (FRA) policies and programs. As agreed with your
                   office, we examined (1) FM’S Region 2 hazardous materials inspection
                   program, (2) FRA’Sassessments of railroad system operations (system
                   assessments) to determine whether they identified more safety defects
                   than routine inspections, (3) FRAregulation of train speeds, (4) the
                   safety of routing trains transporting hazardous materials through Pitts-
                   burgh, (5) enforcement actions taken by FRAagainst railroads as a result
                   of hazardous materials train accidents in Pennsylvania, and (6) the
                   accuracy of railroad reports of evacuations as a result of these train

                   Railroads and rail shippers are required to transport hazardous materi-
Results in Brief   als in accordance with safety regulations. The inspection program in FKA
                   Region 2 may not be adequate to ensure that railroads and shippers are
                   adhering to this requirement due to (1) lists of inspection locations that
                   are not updated or complete, (2) lower than expected inspection cover-
                   age, and (3) possible insufficient inspector resources. Because Region 2
                   has no formal inspection goals by which to measure performance, we
                   could not clearly determine whether the inspection program was accom-
                   plishing what it should. These problems mirror those we found in FKA’S
                   inspection program nationwide.’

                   Regarding system assessments, we found that they identified more haz-
                   ardous materials defects than did routine inspections. This is to be
                   expected because system assessments are intended to be more compre-
                   hensive and also use considerably more resources.

                   ‘Railroad Safetv: DGI Should Better Manage Its Hazardous Materials fnspectm Program. GAO
                   Rm-90-43     (Nov. 17. 1989). Region 2 was one of four FR4 regions evaluated for this report

                   Page I                              GAO/RCEPW140        More FRA Oversight    Needed in Region 2

             FRAcould better exercise its statutory authority to regulate and enforce
             train speeds. While FRA has the statutory authority to regulate and
             enforce all areas of rail safety, including train speeds, it does not cite
             railroads when inspectors detect speeding during inspections or as the
             cause of rail accidents unless the track is defective. In their operating
             rules, railroads declare the track classification that they will meet, and
             in our opinion, should be held accountable for obeying the maximum
             speeds corresponding to those classifications. FRArelies on the rail
             industry to enforce its own speed rules but provides little oversight of
             railroads’ enforcement actions. Without adequate oversight, F’RAmay
             not be able to ensure that trains are operated safely and that the public
             is protected from releases of hazardous materials.

             Railroads make their own decisions regarding routing of trains carrying
             hazardous materials, and FRAdoes not get involved in these decisions. In
             the Pittsburgh area, trains carrying hazardous materials often traverse
             highly populated areas because the route is more direct and the track is
             generally of higher quality, and therefore safer, than alternate routes.
             Consequently, rerouting these trains around Pittsburgh would not sig-
             nificantly increase safety.

             In 1987 and 1988, nine hazardous materials rail accidents occurred in
             Pennsylvania. FR.Adid not issue violations in seven accidents because
             either no regulation was violated or it did not believe it had the author-
             ity or sufficient evidence to issue a violation. FRAissued violations for
             track and hazardous materials violations in the remaining two accidents.
             In addition, we determined that railroad reports of evacuations due to
             hazardous materials releases were generally consistent with other fed-
             eral investigators’ reports, and in our view were reasonably accurate.

             The Federal Railroad Safety Act of 1970, as amended, and the Hazard-
Background   ous Materials Transportation Act of 1974, as amended, provide the Sec-
             retary of Transportation with the authority to establish and enforce
             railroad safety regulations and regulations governing the transportation
             of hazardous materials. The Secretary delegated to the Research and
             Special Programs Administration (RSPA) the authority to issue regula-
             tions concerning the transportation of hazardous materials. The Secre-
             tary delegated to FRAthe authority for railroad safety and for enforcing
             regulations governing transporting hazardous materials by rail. FFUhas

              Page 2                      GAO/RCED9@140   More FIU Oversight   Needed in Region 2

                       established a hazardous materials inspection program to enforce rail-
                       roads’ and shippers’ compliance with the regulations.2

                       As of March 1990, Region 2 had six hazardous materials inspector posi-
                       tions to cover six states -Delaware, Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Vir-
                       ginia, and West Virginia- and the District of Columbia. The hazardous
                       materials inspectors identify and inspect shippers, railroads, and rail
                       cars involved in transporting hazardous materials that travel over about
                       22,000 railroad route miles in the region. In addition, FFLA conducts sys-
                       tem assessments, which are comprehensive reviews of a railroad’s
                       safety operations system-wide. These assessments evaluate operations
                       in all safety disciplines, including hazardous materials. The hazardous
                       materials inspectors are trained for their jobs through both formal class-
                       room and on-the-job training. Classroom training includes such courses
                       as railroad orientation, fundamental and advanced hazardous materials
                       training, hazardous materials emergency response, tank car construc-
                       tion, and accident investigation. On-the-job training supplements inspec-
                       tors’ existing job knowledge gained through previous experience in
                       either hazardous materials inspections or railroad operations that FRA
                       requires as a condition of employment.

                       FRARegion 2 has not established inspection frequency goals and does not
Problems in FRA’s      maintain complete, up-to-date lists of the inspection points (hazardous
Region 2 Inspection    materials shippers and railroads) that it should be inspecting. Also,
Program                because hazardous materials shippers are not required to register, FRA
                       may never identify and inspect some of these shippers. Seventy percent
                       of the region’s inspection points were not inspected in 1987 and 1988.3
                       In our view, Region 2 may not have enough inspectors to effectively
                       carry out its inspection program.

Inspection Goals Not   Region 2 has no written goals regarding how often hazardous materials
                       shipper and railroad facilities should be inspected. Region 2 officials
Defined                said that their inspectors prioritize inspections by placing each inspec-
                       tion point into one of three categories, depending on its risk-A, B, or C;
                       A being the highest risk. We found, however, that (1) the categories, as
                       defined in a memo to inspectors, are strictly a measure of annual volume

                       %hippers, freight forwarders. and consqywes are all involved in the transportation of hazardous
                       materials. In this report. the term “shippers” will be used to refer to all three.
                       ” 1989 inspectlon data was not available at the time of our review

                       Page 3                                 GAO/RCED90-140       More FRA Oversight   Needed in Region 2

                             of hazardous materials; (2) no requirement exists for inspection fre-
                             quency for any category; and (3) inspectors do not use the categories to
                             assign risk. Instead they consider a combination of factors such as vol-
                             ume, type of hazardous materials, and safety history to schedule their
                             inspections. Without clear criteria on the number and frequency of
                             inspections that should be performed, Region 2 cannot know if its
                             inspection coverage is adequate, nor could we determine the adequacy
                             of the region’s inspection program.

                             Although no written inspection goals exist, the inspectors we spoke to
                             said that they believe every inspection point should be visited at least
                             annually. They also said that they inspected 90 percent or more of those
                             sites each year. We determined, however, that Region 2 inspectors did
                             not inspect about 70 percent of their inspection points in both 1987 and
                             1988. The region has 911 facilities to inspect in 6 territories-387      rail-
                             road facilities, 471 shipper facilities, and 53 tank car repair facilities.4
                             While inspectors performed more than 1,000 inspections in the region
                             each year, they visited only 666 unique sites in 1987 and 496 in 1988.”
                             (The rest were repeat inspections performed because, in the inspectors’
                             opinion, these locations have higher risk.) Some of these inspections-
                             283 in 1987 and 250 in 1988-were performed at locations that
                             appeared on the list of 911 inspection points. The remaining inspections,
                             as discussed in the next section, were performed at facilities not on the
                             inspection point lists.

                             FRAheadquarters officials told us that a goal of inspecting all hazardous
                             materials facilities annually is not reasonable. They also said that
                             improved inspection guidance, including more clearly defined inspection
                             goals, is being developed and will soon be distributed to the regions.

Inspection Point Lists Not   Region 2 inspectors do not routinely update the inspection point lists
                             they use to schedule their inspections. They identify new facilities to
Complete or Up-To-Date       inspect by reviewing shipping documents, questioning railroad staff, or
                             checking telephone books. In 1987 and 1988 as much as 40 percent of
                             the hazardous materials inspections took place at railroad and shipper
                             facilities in the region that were not subsequently added to inspection
                             lists, as FM’S policy requires. When inspectors do not routinely add such
                             facilities to inspection point lists, the region does not have sufficient

                             “Appendix 11shows the region’s six hazardous materials territories and associated inspection points

                             “Appendix III presents detailed statistics on inspection coverage by Region 2 hazardous materials
                             inspectors in 1987 and 1988.

                             Page 4                                GAO/RCED-@O-140     More FBA Oversight     Needed ln Region 2

                             knowledge of the scope of its inspection responsibilities. Also, the
                             inspectors may not regularly inspect these unlisted facilities. FRAwould
                             therefore have less assurance that the sites are complying with the regu-
                             lations and operating safely.

                             In addition to not routinely updating inspection point lists, inspectors
                             may never identify some rail-related sites that handle hazardous materi-
                             als. The Region 2 hazardous materials specialist estimated that inspec-
                             tors identify about 75 to 80 percent of all shippers in their territory.
                             Inspectors said that some small seasonal or intermittent shippers may go
                             undetected because they ship so few tank cars that routine inspection
                             techniques fail to identify them. In our November 1989 report, we stated
                             that such shippers may be more likely to have safety problems than
                             large shippers who have the resources to employ rigorous safety

                             In that report we also stated that FRA does not have a definitive source
                             of information on the universe of hazardous materials shippers. RSPA has
                             the authority to require shippers to register, and we recommended in
                             19806 and 1989 that it establish a mandatory shipper registration pro-
                             gram in order to determine the universe of organizations it regulates.
                             RSPA has repeatedly declined to establish a program, stating that infor-
                             mation on the universe of shippers is already available. We believe that
                             the other information sources are not easily accessible to FFU and other
                             hazardous materials enforcement agencies and that a mandatory ship-
                             per registration program is still needed. During this review, FRA officials
                             emphasized that until hazardous materials shippers are required to reg-
                             ister with the federal government, FRAwill never have a completely
                             accurate listing.

Inspector Staffing May Not   In addition to the lack of written inspection goals and updated, complete
                             inspection point lists, Region 2 may not have enough hazardous materi-
Be Sufficient                als inspectors to adequately inspect hazardous materials sites in the
                             region. The region is authorized to have six inspectors, but only four
                             positions were filled in 1989. Even during the previous 2 years when all
                             positions were filled, inspectors did not inspect about 70 percent of the
                             locations on their inspection point lists. Furthermore, if new inspection
                             sites were routinely added to the lists, the number of inspection points
                             for each territory would increase by as much as 11 to 58 percent, based

                             “Programs For Ensuring The Safe Transportation Of Hazardous Materials Need Improvement,
                             m-81-5 (Nov. 4, 1980).

                             Page 5                             GAO/RCEDS@140      More FR.A Oversight   Needed in Region 2

                      on 1988 inspections, and the inspection workload would be correspond-
                      ingly greater.

                      Our November 1989 report cited problems of inadequate staffing for
                      FRA’Shazardous materials inspection program nationwide. In responding
                      to that report, the FRAAdministrator agreed with our assessment and
                      said that FRAis adding 10 hazardous materials inspectors by June 1990.
                      The FRARegion 2 Director told us that with a full staff7 (including a
                      seventh inspector now being sought) and with a proposed realignment
                      of the region’s district offices and inspector territories, the region will be
                      able to use its inspector resources more effectively. The realignment
                      would include (1) eliminating the Pittsburgh District Office and incorpo-
                      rating its territory into the Cleveland District and (2) establishing a new
                      district office in Charleston, West Virginia.

                      These actions may not be sufficient to correct the problem of inadequate
                      resources. The region may have significantly more locations to inspect
                      than inspection point lists suggest, and changing the alignment of the
                      territories will not reduce the number of facilities to be inspected. In our
                      view, Region 2 is hampered by an inaccurate, incomplete list of inspec-
                      tion points for the region. With such a list and clearly defined inspection
                      goals that include frequency of inspections, FRAwould be in a better
                      position to realistically determine how many inspectors it needed.

System Assessments    rail safety inspections. The results of these inspections with respect to
Not Comparable to     hazardous materials have been somewhat different, with system assess-
Routine Inspections   ments achieving a more comprehensive analysis of employee training
                      and safety procedures while providing similar findings to routine
                      inspections in other areas. However, FRAis planning changes to its haz-
                      ardous materials inspection procedure so that routine inspections will
                      result in similar hazardous materials findings as do the system

                       A hazardous materials inspector normally performs a routine inspection
                       without assistance, taking less than a day and concentrating primarily
                       on hazardous materials safety features of individual tank cars. In con-
                       trast, system assessments require vastly larger investments of
                       resources, taking up to several months and performed by as many as

                       ‘According to FRA officials, Region 2 hired two hazardous materials inspectors after our review was
                       completed, bringing the region to its authorized level of six.

                       Page 6                               GAO/RCED40-140 More FRA Oversight Needed in Region 2

                   100 inspectors and specialists from numerous FRA regions. System
                   assessments evaluate all rail safety disciplines: hazardous materials,
                   track conditions, operating practices, motive power and equipment, and
                   signal and train control. Also, they are performed only at railroads,
                   while routine hazardous materials inspections are performed at rail-
                   roads and shippers.

                   We compared the non-compliances reported on routine hazardous mater-
                   ials inspections with those identified in Region 2 system assessment
                   reviews that were performed between June 1987 and January 1988 on
                   Consolidated Rail Corporation (Conrail), CSX Corporation, and the Nor-
                   folk and Western Railway Company. Routine inspections most often
                   identified problems such as improper (1) shipping papers, (2) securing
                   of tank cars, (3) tank car unloading, and (4) marking and placarding of
                   cars to identify the hazardous contents. The system assessments identi-
                   fied similar instances of non-compliance, but they also regularly
                   addressed railroad employees’ safety training programs, supervision,
                   and knowledge and understanding of the hazardous materials require-
                   ments Consequently, the system assessments identified more problems
                   relating to these conditions.

                   System assessments, by design, are far more comprehensive than rou-
                   tine inspections. We agree with FFUofficials who said that they are not
                   intended to be a substitute for routine hazardous materials inspections
                   because they (1) are resource intensive, (2) are performed only occasion-
                   ally, and (3) are not performed at shipper facilities. In our November
                   1989 report, we recommended that FRA inspectors place additional
                   emphasis on evaluating safety procedures at shipper and railroad facili-
                   ties, rather than concentrating on inspecting tank cars. FRAagreed with
                   this recommendation and is revising its hazardous materials inspection
                   guidance accordingly. This action should make the types of hazardous
                   materials problems found in both routine inspections and system assess-
                   ments more consistent.

                   FRAhas the statutory authority to regulate all areas of rail safety and to
FRA Oversight of   enforce such regulations as it has adopted. FRA exercises control over
Speed              train speeds nationally and in Region 2 through its track regulations.
                   However, because FRAintentled that these regulations set track mainte-
                   nance standards rather than speed limits, FRA believes violations may
                   only be written when a railroad does not maintain the track to the clas-
                   sification that corresponds to the actual train speed. FRA’S position is

                   Page 7                      GAO/RCEDSO-140   More FRA Oversight   Needed in Region 2

                       that inspectors may not issue a speed violation where the track is main-
                       tained to its standard, even if a train exceeds the regulatory maximum
                       speed for the track. We believe FRAcan better exercise its statutory
                       authority to enforce the maximum speed limits for the classes of track
                       defined in its regulations to better ensure train safety. Also, FRArelies on
                       the rail industry to enforce its own speed rules and provides little over-
                       sight of railroad speed enforcement actions.

FRA’s Regulatory       FRA  currently addresses speed through its track standard regulations,
                       which establish maintenance standards and maximum speed limits for
Authority and          each of six track classifications. The speed limit depends on the condi-
Enforcement of Speed   tion of the track and also, in the case of curved track, on the maximum
                       speed the curvature can sustain. The classification of a particular por-
                       tion of track is set by the railroad (based on the track standard it agrees
                       to meet) and reported to FRA in its operating rules.B

                       FRAinspectors perform radar speed checks to determine if the railroad is
                       operating trains at speeds allowed by the track classification. F’RAoffi-
                       cials in Region 2 and headquarters told us that inspectors cannot issue
                       violations to railroads for excessive train speeds because the regulations
                       do not directly address speed. They do, however, write track violations
                       to railroads if they find some defect in the track (which would include
                       not maintaining track to the classification that would allow the higher
                       speed). FRA’S Assistant Chief Counsel agreed with this position, stating
                       that the FRA regulations are not intended to regulate speed limits but are
                       designed to ensure that a railroad improves its track if it wishes to oper-
                       ate trains at higher speeds. He said that inspectors would therefore not
                       have a legal basis for writing a violation based solely on speed.

                       This interpretation prohibits inspectors from taking any enforcement
                       action when the tracks are adequately maintained but the trains are
                       operated over the maximum speeds that are allowed by the existing
                       classification or curvature of the track. For example, an FRAinvestiga-
                       tion determined that one of the nine Pennsylvania hazardous materials
                       accidents was the result of excess speed-60 miles per hour on a curved
                       track that allowed a maximum of 40 miles per hour. FRAofficials said
                       that since no defect was found in the track, no violation was issued.
                       However, according to FFUtrack standards, the curvature of the track

                       H49 C.F.R. 217.7 (Nov. 25. 1974).

                       Page 8                              GAO/RCED-!BO-14.0 More FRA Oversight   Needed in Region 2
___    __

                            would not allow a 60 mph speed, regardless of how well it was main-
                            tained. A speeding violation would have been appropriate in this
                            instance if the inspector were permitted to do so under FRAregulations.

                            In discussing our views with FRAofficials, we were told that the track
                            classifications declared by the railroads in their operating rules do not
                            necessarily reflect the level to which the track is actually maintained,
                            and that actual level may change even from day-to-day. As a result,
                            when speeding is detected by FRA,the track must be examined to ensure
                            that it is not actually being maintained to a higher classification stan-
                            dard that would allow the higher speed.

                            FRAshould not have to prove that track does not meet a higher standard
                            before it issues a speed-related violation. In our view, it should be suffi-
                            cient that the railroad has declared a track to conform to a specific clas-
                            sification. The railroad should be held accountable for operating its
                            trains within the FFUlimit for that classification and for notifying FRA of
                            any change in that classification.

FRA Oversight of Railroad   FRAoversight of railroads’ speed enforcement actions would help ensure
                            that trains are operating at safe speeds and would reduce the risk of
Speed Enforcement           accidents that might cause hazardous materials releases. FRArelies on
                            railroads to enforce speed limits if (1) the tracks are maintained to the
                            standard defined by the classification and (2) employees who operate
                            trains at excessive speeds are disciplined. Larger railroads (with
                            400,000 or more manhours of labor annually) must also provide FRA
                            with an annual report that includes the number of speed tests conducted
                            and the number of failures (speed violations) that occurred.

                            However, FRAprovides little oversight of these enforcement actions and
                            does not set any standards with respect to acceptable speed test failure
                            rates. Also, the railroads are not required to provide information on the
                            amount by which the speed limit was exceeded or the disciplinary
                            actions taken by the railroads. Individual inspectors may review the
                            results of the speed tests prior to performing inspections or systems
                            assessments, but this is not a requirement.

                            In addition, FRAdoes not set forth the actions that should be taken when
                            failures occur. FM headquarters officials said that they informally ana-
                            lyze the speed check reports submitted by the railroads and may take
                            action if, in the reviewer’s judgment, the report reflects a serious prob-
                            lem. For example. the reviewer may ask the cognizant FRAinspector to

                            Page 9                      GAO/RCED-90-140   More FRA Oversight   Needed in Region 2

                        follow up on the problem in the next inspection. The officials also told
                        us that the railroads clearly know the importance of operating at safe
                        speeds and have sufficient controls to ensure that train operators do not
                        speed. As authorized by the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 1988, how-
                        ever, FRAis proposing a regulation to cite individual train operators (but
                        not the railroad) for violating speed limits.

                        The three railroads we reviewed reported conducting 43,918 speed tests
                        in 1988, which revealed that 625 trains exceeded posted speeds. Offi-
                        cials at two of these railroads said that they discipline their employees
                        for violating speed limits. However, they said that records of discipli-
                        nary actions are only kept in employee personnel files, and they have no
                        central listing of the employees who have been disciplined. Officials at
                        the third railroad told us that they did not discipline employees for the
                        six speed test failures they reported for 1988 because each failure was a
                        first offense.

                        Nationwide statistics for 1987 and 1988 show that speed was not a fre-
                        quent cause of rail accidents (about 3 percent of all accidents in both
                        years were either caused by speed or speed was identified as a contrib-
                        uting cause). However, accidental releases of hazardous materials can
                        cause enormous health and environmental damage, and the volume of
                        hazardous materials being moved by rail has increased significantly
                        since 1984. A single accident could have catastrophic consequences. In
                        our opinion, FR,Ahas the statutory authority to regulate and enforce
                        train speeds, and if this authority were better exercised, FRA would have
                        greater assurance that trains are operating at safe speeds, thus reducing
                        the risk of exposing the public to hazardous materials releases.

No Viable Alternative   ardous materials (which FXAwould enforce) but has not established reg-
to Routing Hazardous    ulations in this area. Consequently, railroads make their own routing
Materials Trains        decisions. Railroad officials said that they usually select routes (for all
                        cargo-hazardous      or otherwise) that (1) have the best quality tracks;
Through Pittsburgh      (2) are the quickest, shortest and most direct; and (3) avoid high popula-
                        tion areas whenever possible. The track quality is considered to be the
                        most important criterion in route selection. This often conflicts with the
                        avoidance of high population areas, however, because the best quality
                        tracks usually traverse areas with high population density.

                        FRA’Shazardous materials routing policy is based on RSPA studies con-
                        ducted in 1980 which concluded that (1) routing based solely on the

                        Page 10                     GAO/BCED-90-140   More PR4 Ovemlght   Needed in Region 2

avoidance of populated areas without track upgrading would be
counterproductive and (2) the advantage of reducing public exposure to
hazardous materials shipments was outweighed by the disadvantages of
diverting traffic to less safe track and longer trip lengths. Also, FRAoffi-
cials expressed concern that the federal regulation of routing could
impede railroads’ operations and revenues by encouraging shippers to
seek other modes of transportation if regulation resulted in lengthened
delivery times and increased costs.

Both conrail and CSX Corporation officials told us that the safest route to
transport hazardous materials cargo in the Pittsburgh area is through
highly populated Pittsburgh because these tracks are of higher quality
and the route is more direct than alternate routes9 Officials of the Pitts-
burgh and Lake Erie Railroad stated that they have no choice about
routing because they have only one route available to service their

On the basis of our review of routes to transport hazardous materials in
the Pittsburgh area, we believe that the route through the city is safer
than the alternative rail routes and that additional FRAinvolvement in
routing decisions would not significantly increase safety in that loca-
tion.1° With the assistance of the Region 2 track specialist, we observed
that the two alternate routes would involve tracks belonging to as many
as four railroads. Using these routes could significantly increase costs to
any one railroad if train crew changes and usage fees were required by
the railroad owning the track. According to the track specialist, one of
the routes is steeply inclined in places and would not be appropriate to
carry large freight trains. The other route involves significantly more
distance and slower track speeds. Furthermore, the quality of the track
for both routes was lower in places than the Pittsburgh route, posing
additional safety risks. Finally, we observed that the alternate routes
would also traverse populated areas, albeit not Pittsburgh.

Conrail and CSX own most of the track m the Pittsburgh area.

“‘FRA currently has authoritv only to participate in the development of railroad routing regulations
(49 IT.S.C. 1804 (b); 49 C.F.R.‘1.49 (r)).

Page 11                               GAO/RCED-90140       More FRA Oversight    Needed in Region 2

                          Nine rail accidents involving the release of hazardous materials
Enforcement Actions       occurred in Pennsylvania during 1987 and 1988. FFtA issued violations in
Taken in Nine             two of these accidents, one for a track defect and the second for improp-
Pennsylvania Train        erly secured valves on hazardous materials tank cars. However, in the
                          second accident, FRA could not cite the railroad for the insufficiently
Accidents                 charged air brakes that caused the accident because the violated proce-
                          dure was a railroad rule, not a federal regulation.

                          Of the remaining seven accidents where no violations were issued, two
                          had speed related causes, two were caused by track defects, and three
                          had other causes.11FRAhad sufficient information to issue a violation in
                          one of the speed related accidents, but did not do so because of its inter-
                          pretation of regulations described earlier with respect to speed. In three
                          other accidents, the regulations governed the causes, but FRA did not
                          investigate or was not able to obtain sufficient evidence to issue viola-
                          tions. In the remaining three accidents, either the regulations did not
                          apply to the cause or the cause was not reported to FFLA.

                          FRA  enforcement policy allows inspectors to use their discretion in decid-
                          ing to issue violations. In a separate review of FRA’S nationwide safety
                          enforcement practices, we are evaluating the issues of inspector discre-
                          tion and safety defects that are not covered by regulations.

                          We believe the railroads in Region 2 are reasonably accurate in reporting
Reporting of              evacuations due to hazardous materials releases. FFU requires railroads
Evacuations in Region     t o report various types of accident information, including the number of
2 Hazardous   Materials   people evacuated. In the nine Pennsylvania accidents, the evacuation
                          data the railroad reported were consistent with the reports of federal
Accidents Appears to      accident investigating teams, with one exception. In that instance, the
Be Accurate               railroad reported 8,000 to 16,000 people evacuated, whereas both the
                          National Transportation Safety Board and FRA investigation reports
                          cited 22,000. The railroad official who wrote the report said that the
                          evacuation figures were based on initial estimates of 8,000 to 16,000
                          that were reported in the newspaper. We believe the difference between
                          the maximum number of evacuations reported by the railroad and the
                          number reported by the investigators in this instance is not significant
                          enough to warrant a change in reporting procedures.

                          ’ ’ .4ppendix I\’ discusses these seven accidents in greater detail

                          Page 12                                 GAO/RCED9@140         More FRA Oversight   Needed in Region 2

                  effectiveness of the FFLA Region 2 hazardous materials inspection pro-
                  gram. Without up-to-date lists and clearly defined goals, neither Region
                  2 nor we can determine whether inspection coverage is adequate. How-
                  ever, the facts that about 70 percent of the region’s listed inspection
                  points were not inspected in 1987 and 1988 and that inspection point
                  lists did not include a significant number of locations that should have
                  been subject to inspection lead us to conclude that the number of inspec-
                  tors may not be adequate to ensure that hazardous materials shippers
                  and railroads comply with safety regulations. Planned revisions in FRA
                  nationwide guidance and recent additions to the inspector staff may
                  help to correct these deficiencies. Nevertheless, we believe additional
                  emphasis should be placed on updating inspection point lists and estab-
                  lishing clear goals for inspection frequency in Region 2.

                  We believe FRAcould better exercise its statutory authority to regulate
                  and enforce train speeds when inspectors detect speeding during inspec-
                  tions or as the cause of rail accidents where maximum speeds are
                  exceeded and tracks are not defective. In their operating rules, railroads
                  declare the track classifications they will meet, and in our opinion,
                  should be held accountable for obeying the maximum speeds corre-
                  sponding to those classifications. In addition, without adequate over-
                  sight of railroads’ speed enforcement or established standards for speed
                  testing and reporting, FRAmay not be able to ensure that trains are oper-
                  ated safely and that the public is protected from releases of hazardous

                  The Administrator of RSPA disagreed with our November 1989 recom-
                  mendation that a shipper registration program be established. We con-
                  tinue to believe that until such a program is established, there will be no
                  definitive source of shipper information upon which FRA and other
                  transportation agencies can rely to focus their hazardous materials
                  inspection and enforcement activities.

Recommendations    inspection program that are consistent with problems discussed in our
                   November 1989 report. In responding to that report, FRAhas proposed a
                   number of corrective actions, including hiring additional inspectors,
                   revising inspection goals and guidance, and providing inspectors with

                   Page 13                    GAO/RCFDHO-140   More FRA Oversight   Needed in Region 2

                      timely, detailed information on past inspection results and recent haz-
                      ardous materials releases. When implemented, these actions should
                      improve the Region 2 inspection program.

                      In addition to our previous recommendations, we recommend that the
                      Secretary of Transportation direct the Administrator, FRA,to

                  . reemphasize in Region 2 that inspectors add newly identified inspection
                    points to their inspection point lists and keep these lists up-to-date so
                    that the inspection goals and priorities could be set to maximize the use
                    of scarce inspector resources,
                  . establish a policy of enforcing train speed limits by citing railroads for
                    exceeding speed limits permitted by the declared classification or track’s
                    curvature, and
                  l increase oversight of railroad speed enforcement actions by

                      . requiring railroads to report information on the amount their speed
                        limits are exceeded in failed tests and the number and types of disci-
                        plinary actions taken against employees who speed, and
                      . establishing standards for (1) acceptable failure rates in speed tests
                        conducted by railroads, (2) how speed tests should be conducted, and
                        (3) what types of disciplinary action should be taken when failures

Views of Agency       comments in this report where appropriate. In particular, FRAdid not
Officials             agree with our position that FRA should issue violations to railroads for
                      exceeding the maximum speeds allowed by the curvature or declared
                      classification of the track. We believe FRAshould better exercise its stat-
                      utory authority in this regard. FRAofficials also pointed out that many
                      of the deficiencies identified in the Region 2 hazardous materials inspec-
                      tion program will be corrected when actions are taken to implement the
                      recommendations of our November 1989 report. Additional comments
                      are contained in appendix V. However, as requested, we did not obtain
                      official comments on this report.

                      We performed the field work for this review from March to December
                      1989 in accordance with generally accepted government auditing stan-
                      dards. Appendix I contains details of our objectives, scope, and method-
                      ology. As agreed with your office, unless you publicly announce its

                       Page 14                    GAO/RCED90-140   More F’RA Oversight   Needed in Region 2

---   -
          contents earlier, we plan no further distribution of this report until 5
          days from the date of this letter. At that time we will send copies to the
          Secretary of Transportation; the Administrator, FRA;and the Adminis-
          trator, RSPA. This work was performed under the direction of Kenneth M.
          Mead, Director, Transportation Issues, (202) 275-1000. Other major con-
          tributors are listed in appendix VI.

          J. Dexter Peach
          Assistant Comptroller   General

          Page 16                     GAO/RCED-90-140   More FRA Oversight   Needed in Region 2

Letter                                                                                     1

Appendix I                                                                               18
Objectives, Scope,and
Appendix II
FRA Region 2
Hazardous Materials
Inspection Territories
Appendix III
Schedule of Locations
Inspected by FRA
Region 2 Inspectors,
Appendix IV
Causesof the Nine
Hazardous Materials
Rail Accidents, 1987-
Appendix V                                                                               24
Views of Agency
Appendix VI                                                                              26
Major Contributors to
This Report

                         Page 16   GAO/RCED-90-140   More FRA Oversight   Needed in Region 2


Conrail    Consolidated Rail Corporation
FRA        Federal Railroad Administration
GAO        General Accounting Office
RSPA       Research and Special Programs Administration

Page 17                     GAO/RCED90-140   More FRA Oversight   Needed in Region 2
Appendix I

Object&s, Scope,and Methodology

              As a result of his concerns over the safety of rail transportation of haz-
              ardous materials in FRARegion 2, Congressman William J. Coyne
              requested that we review the effectiveness of the Region 2 hazardous
              materials inspection program. Specifically, we were asked to evaluate
              (1) the number of inspections, inspection staff resources, and inspector
              training; (2) problems identified in routine inspections versus system
              assessments; (3) whether FRAregulation of train speeds is adequate; (4)
              whether FFW ensures that the routing of trains transporting hazardous
              materials through Pittsburgh is safe; (5) enforcement actions resulting
              from accidents involving hazardous materials releases in Pennsylvania;
              and (6) the accuracy of railroads’ reports citing the number of people
              evacuated as a result of these accidents.

              We conducted our review at headquarters offices of DOT’s Research and
              Special Programs Administration and FRA, and the FRARegion 2 offices
              in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Cleveland, Ohio; and Bal-
              timore, Maryland. We also contacted officials at three railroads: conrail,
              CSX Corporation, and Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad.

              To determine the legal authority and responsibility for hazardous mater-
              ials rail safety, we examined the laws, regulations, and delegations of
              authority. To review FRA’S hazardous materials inspection program, we
              interviewed FRA’Shazardous materials inspectors, specialists, and super-
              visors in Region 2 and analyzed documents they provided. We also
              reviewed pertinent FR4 operating manuals and other instructions provid-
              ing guidance to FRA hazardous materials safety inspectors.

              To determine the amount of coverage and types of inspections per-
              formed, we analyzed inspection point lists and inspection reports. We
              interviewed five of the six FFUhazardous materials inspectors who
              worked during 1987 and 1988 and observed one of them as he con-
              ducted tank car and facilities inspections in 1989. We also reviewed the
              training histories of the six inspectors employed by FRAduring this time
              and discussed inspector training with responsible FRA officials.

              As part of our analysis of FRA inspections, we obtained information from
              FRA’S hazardous materials inspection data base for calendar years 1987
              and 1988. This included statistics on the numbers and locations of
              inspections performed and the types of defects and violations cited in
              the inspection reports.

              To determine the validity of railroads’ decisions to route hazardous
              materials through Pittsburgh, we reviewed track maps and discussed

              Page 18                     GAO/RCED-90-140   More FR4 Oversight   Needed in Region 2
Appendix I
Objectives, Scope, and Methodology

conditions and classifications of alternate tracks with the FFLARegion 2
track specialist.

To determine the causes of the nine hazardous materials accidents in
Pennsylvania in 1987 and 1988, we reviewed and analyzed all available
reports and other documentation resulting from the accidents. This
included FRAand National Transportation Safety Board investigative
reports, FRAinspection reports, and information from FRA’Saccident/
incident data base as well as from the FRAGeneral Counsel’s data base
on safety violations.

We discussed our findings with FRAofficials and have included their
comments where appropriate. However, as requested, we did not obtain
official comments on this report. Our work was performed from March
1989 through December 1989 in accordance with generally accepted
government auditing standards.

Page 19                              GAO/RCED9@140   More FRA Oversight   Needed in Region 2
FRA Region2 HazardousMaterials
Inspection Territories

              Inspection Territory                                                       Inspection Points
              Northern Ohio                                                                            146
              Southern Ohio                                                                            166
              Eastern Pennsvlvanla and Delawarea                                                       205
              Western Pennsylvania                                                                      94
              West VIrgIniaa                                                                           103
              Vlrglnia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia                                         197
              Total                                                                                    911
              aThese Inspector posItIons were vacant during 1989

              Page 20                              GAO/RCED90-140   More FRA Oversight   Needed in Region 2
Appendix III

Scheduleof Locations Inspectedby FRA Region
2 Inspec~rs, 1987438

                             No. of                                Inspection Points Visited
                         Inspection                           Not on List                                               Total           No. of
                           Points in    On    Percent                        In Outside      Unidentified         Lo;ztiz;       Inspections
Inspector Territory        Territory   List   of Total    In Territory Region Region           Locations                           Performed
Southern Ohro                   166     69          42%            39       14           10                 5             137             253
Maryland, Vrrginra and
  the Drstrict of
  Columbra                      197     28          14%            14        6            8                   .            56             173
Northern Ohio                   146     60          55%            39       16            l                   .           135             200
Eastern Pennsylvania
  and Delaware                  205     32          16%           28         1            .                7               68             119
West Vrrginia                   103     39          38%           13         9           23               18              102             196
Western Pennsylvania             94     35          37%           31         2            l                                68             120
Total - 1987                    911    283          31%          164        40           41              3;               565           1,063

Southern Ohio                   166     43          26%            21         l           4                 8              76             205
Maryland, Virginia and
  the District of
  Columbia                      197     24          12%            20        2            l                 1              47             116
Northern Ohio                   146     87          60%            30        1            .                 .             118             195
Eastern Pennsylvania
  and Delaware                  205     16           8%            28        3             ’             16                53              94
West Virginia                   103     40          39%            43         l           1              12                96             267
Western Pennsylvania             94     40          43%            55        1             .               .               96             206
Total - 1988                    911    250          27%          197         7            5              37               496           1,103
Aggregate   Total              1,822   533          29%           361       55           46              67              1,062          2,166

                                              Page 21                             GAO/RCED-90-140   More FRA Oversight     Needed in Region 2
Causesof the Nine Pennsylvania Hazardous
Materials Rail Accidents, 1987-88

                    Nine rail accidents involving the release of hazardous materials
                    occurred in Pennsylvania during 1987 and 1988. FRA issued violations in
                    two of these accidents, one for a track defect and the second for improp-
                    erly secured valves on hazardous materials tank cars. However, in the
                    second accident, FRAcould not cite the railroad for the insufficiently
                    charged air brakes that caused the accident because the violated proce-
                    dure was a railroad rule, not a federal regulation.

                    FRAdocuments show the causes of the remaining seven as follows:

Speed Related - 2   (1) One accident occurred during normal operation. According to the FRA
                    accident report, the train was travelling approximately 60 miles per
                    hour. The track was classified to allow a maximum of 40 miles per hour
                    and posted by the railroad at 30 miles per hour. No defects were found
                    in the track, but the track curvature and elevation would not allow a
                    higher classification that would justify the 60 mile per hour speed.
                    According to FRA,it could not issue a violation based on its position that
                    the track standards are not intended to enforce speed.

                    (2) One occurred during a coupling operation. The railroad reported that
                    the estimated speed of 12 miles per hour was too fast for the coupling
                    operation. The track maximum was 10 miles per hour. No violation was
                    issued because, as discussed above, FRA does not allow violations to be
                    issued for speeding.

Track Defects - 2   (1) One accident was caused by a worn clip bolt hole. This type of defect
                    is governed by FRAtrack regulations and potentially could have resulted
                    in a violation, However, an inspector wrote a report on the accident
                    based on oral information provided by the railroad. Because the acci-
                    dent was not formally investigated by FRA, no violation was issued.

                    (2) Another accident was reported by the railroad to be caused by a
                    “wide gauge” (tracks spread beyond acceptable tolerances). This type of
                    defect is also governed by FRAregulations and could result in a violation.
                    However, FRAdid not investigate the accident’ and no violation was

                    ‘FRA officials said they do not investigate all accidents.

                    Page 22                                GAO/RCEDW14.0         More FRA Oversight   Needed in Region 2
                   Appendix IV
                   Causes of the Nine Pennsylvania  Hazardous
                   Materials Rail Accidents, 1987-M

Other Causes - 3   (1) One accident was caused by an overheated bearing on a rail car. FXA
                   regulations govern the routine inspection of such mechanical equipment.
                   In its investigation, FXAcould not determine whether or not the inspec-
                   tions required by the regulations were performed and therefore did not
                   issue a violation.

                   (2) Another accident was caused by the improper manual operation of a
                   track device used during a coupling operation. FRAdetermined that
                   blowing snow interfered with the operator’s vision and no violation was

                   (3) A third accident was not investigated by FXAbecause no damage,
                   injury, or death resulted. No cause was reported by the railroad and no
                   violation was issued.

                   Page 23                             GAO/RCED9Cb140   More FRA Oversight   Needed in Region 2
Views of Agency Officials

                  We discussed the results of our review with FRA officials in headquarters
                  and Region 2. As discussed in this letter, FR4 does not agree with our
                  position that FRA should issue violations to railroads for exceeding the
                  maximum speeds allowed by the curvature or declared classification of
                  the tracks.

                  Headquarters officials also said that they are taking a number of actions
                  in response to our November 1989 report to correct deficiencies in the
                  hazardous materials inspection program nationwide. FM'S official
                  response to that report included the following proposed actions that
                  relate to the issues discussed in this report:

              l   Rewriting the Hazardous Materials Enforcement Manual to include a
                  revised approach to conducting shipper and railroad inspections,
              l   Using FRA’SQuality Improvement Program (QIP) to monitor inspector
                  activities to ensure that the inspections being performed are consistent
                  with the Enforcement Manual and the National Inspection Plan.
              l   Modifying the Office of Safety’s current staffing model to use inspection
                  point (workload) and QIP (productivity) data to better project resource
                  needs and allocate resources to locations of greatest risk.
              l   Adding six hazardous materials inspectors since the subject GAO audit
                  [November 1989 report] and planning to add 10 additional hazardous
                  materials inspectors and 8 hazardous materials specialists nationwide
                  by June 1990.

                  The actions proposed by FR4 may significantly improve the conditions
                  noted in this letter. However, they are still being developed and we are
                  not in a position to comment on their effectiveness at this time.

                  In response to our position concerning inspection coverage, Region 2
                  officials said that all inspection points are categorized as “A”, “B”, or
                  “C.” Inspection points in category A are higher risk and should be
                  inspected more frequently than those in category B or C. According to
                  the hazardous materials specialist, inspectors should prioritize their
                  inspections based on these categories. He said that in this way, the
                  region is assured that the highest risk locations are inspected regularly.
                  He also said that he continuously monitors inspection activity and will
                  notify an inspector if he is not covering the inspection points

                  We found, however, that instructions to inspectors on the three catego-
                  ries related only to volume of hazardous materials that annually flow
                  through an inspection point location (A = over 500 cars, B = 100 to 499

                  Page 24                     GAO/RCED-90140   More FRA Oversight   Needed in Region 2
Appendix V
Views of Agency Officials

cars, C = 1 to 99 cars). Furthermore, the instructions did not address
expected frequency of inspection for these categories.

We also spoke to two of the Region 2 inspectors concerning their use of
the categories in scheduling their inspections. Both said that they use
the categories as only one factor in determining how often they would
inspect a facility. There are other factors in assessing the risk that
would be equally or more important, such as the type of commodity
being transported, any recent reports of hazardous materials releases
from an inspection point, and the facility’s record of past safety per-
formance. A small shipper or railroad might be inspected more fre-
quently than a large one if the risk was determined to be greater. Both
inspectors said that they base their scheduling decisions on their own
experience, knowledge, and judgement.

The Region 2 director also said that regional policy does not allow dis-
cretion in issuing violations for rail accidents if the cause of the accident
violated the regulations. There was not sufficient evidence to verify his
statement based on the nine accidents we reviewed.

Page 26                      GAO/RCEDBO-140   More FRA Oversight   Needed in Region 2
Major Contributors to This Report

Resources,              Deborah L. Justice, Assignment Manager
Community, and
Development Division,
Washington, DC.
                        Richard A. McGeary, Regional Management Representative
Philadelphia Regional   Richard D. Behal, Evaluator-in-Charge
Office, Philadelphia,   William E. Lee, Evaluator

(343816)                 Page 26                  GAO/RCED90-140   More FRA Oversight   Needed in Region 2