oversight

Rail Transportation: Federal Railroad Administration's New Approach to Railroad Safety

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1997-07-23.

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

                  United States General Accounting Office

GAO               Report to Congressional Requesters




July 1997
                  RAIL
                  TRANSPORTATION
                  Federal Railroad
                  Administration’s New
                  Approach to Railroad
                  Safety




GAO/RCED-97-142
      United States
GAO   General Accounting Office
      Washington, D.C. 20548

      Resources, Community, and
      Economic Development Division

      B-275984

      July 23, 1997

      The Honorable James L. Oberstar
      Ranking Democratic Member
      Committee on Transportation and
        Infrastructure
      The Honorable Robert E. Wise, Jr.
      Ranking Democratic Member
      Subcommittee on Railroads
      Committee on Transportation and
        Infrastructure
      The Honorable Bruce F. Vento
      House of Representatives

      In response to your request, this report provides information on operational and safety trends in
      the railroad industry, and describes how the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has
      responded to these trends by developing a new partnering approach for improving safety on the
      nation’s rail lines.

      As arranged with your offices, unless you publicly announce its contents earlier, we plan no
      further distribution of this report until 30 days after the date of this letter. At that time, we will
      send copies of this report to interested congressional committees, the Secretary of
      Transportation, and the Administrator of FRA. We will also make copies available to others upon
      request.

      If you or your staffs have any questions, I can be reached at (202) 512-2834. Major contributors
      to this report are listed in appendix V.




      John H. Anderson, Jr.
      Director, Transportation Issues
Executive Summary


             In 1980, the Congress passed the Staggers Rail Act, which fostered
Purpose      substantial changes in the railroad industry. By 1995, fewer large freight
             railroads accounted for most of the industry’s revenue and train miles. At
             the same time, these freight railroads substantially reduced their
             workforce and track networks. In response, the Congress and railroad
             labor have raised concerns that these changes in the industry could
             compromise safety.

             The Ranking Democratic Member of the House Committee on
             Transportation and Infrastructure, the Ranking Democratic Member of
             that Committee’s Subcommittee on Railroads, and Representative Bruce F.
             Vento asked GAO to describe (1) relationships that existed between
             operational and safety trends in the railroad industry from 1976 to 1995
             and (2) the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) approach to improving
             safety on the nation’s rail system. GAO was not able to identify any direct
             relationships between operational and safety trends because of limitations
             in the data that were available for the 1976 to 1995 period. Therefore, this
             report provides information on safety trends for the entire railroad
             industry and describes how FRA has responded to both operational and
             safety trends to develop a new partnering approach to improving safety on
             the nation’s rail lines. In addition, chapter 1 provides information on
             operational trends in the freight industry.


             In 1995, the railroad industry consisted of Amtrak (the nation’s largest
Background   passenger railroad), 14 large freight railroads—collectively known as class
             I railroads—as well as over 600 regional and smaller railroads. The
             industry had changed significantly since the Staggers Rail Act made it
             federal policy that railroads would rely, where possible, on competition
             and the demand for services, rather than on regulation to establish
             reasonable rates. Prior to the act, several of the largest freight railroads
             were earning a negative rate of return on investment and at least three
             were bankrupt. The deregulation contributed to changes in the
             composition and operation of the rail industry. From 1976 through 1995,
             the nation’s largest freight railroads cut costs; increased the tonnage each
             train carried and the distance this tonnage was carried; downsized their
             workforce; and eliminated, sold, or abandoned thousands of miles of
             unprofitable or little-used track.

             Since 1970, FRA has been responsible for regulating all aspects of
             passenger and freight railroad safety under the Federal Railroad Safety Act




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                   Executive Summary




                   of 1970, as amended.1 In that capacity, FRA prescribes regulations and
                   issues orders that relate to railroad equipment, track, signal systems,
                   operating practices, and those aspects of railroad workplace safety that
                   pertain primarily to the movement of trains. The Occupational Health and
                   Safety Administration (OSHA) regulates those aspects of railroad workplace
                   safety that are typical of any industrial workplace. FRA also enforces the
                   Hazardous Materials Transportation Act as it pertains to the transportation
                   of hazardous materials by rail.


                   Railroad safety has improved significantly over the past 20 years. Reported
Results in Brief   accident and injury rates are down 70 and 74 percent, respectively, from
                   1976 levels. Railroad industry representatives attribute the reductions to
                   improvements made to the railroads’ plant and equipment. However, labor
                   representatives expressed concern that, despite this progress, heavier
                   loads and increased traffic may adversely affect rail safety in the future.
                   Rail safety data indicate that the progress in reducing accidents has
                   slowed in recent years. While preliminary data for 1996 show
                   improvements in key safety statistics, about 1,000 people die each year as
                   a result of grade-crossing accidents and trespassing, 11,000 railroad
                   employees are injured, and thousands of people are evacuated from their
                   homes as a result of the hazardous materials that are released during train
                   accidents.

                   FRA instituted an important shift in its safety program in 1993 to address
                   safety problems in the rail industry. Rather than using violations and civil
                   penalties as the primary means to obtain compliance with railroad safety
                   regulations, FRA has emphasized cooperative partnerships with other
                   federal agencies, railroad management, labor unions, and the states. The
                   partnering efforts generally focus on the nation’s larger railroads and have
                   resulted in FRA inspectors’ conducting fewer site-specific inspections of
                   the railroad industry overall. While the preliminary data for 1996 show
                   improvements, it is too early to determine if FRA’s new approach will
                   sustain a long-term decline in accidents and fatalities. In addition, FRA has
                   allocated fewer resources to responding to concerns about the level of
                   workplace injuries for railroad employees and railroad bridge safety.




                   1
                    In 1994, the Federal Railroad Safety Act of 1970, and other federal railroad safety statutes, were
                   repealed, codified, and reenacted as chapters 201-213 of title 49, United States Code.



                   Page 3                                                       GAO/RCED-97-142 Rail Transportation
                            Executive Summary




Principal Findings

Safety on the Nation’s      Safety on the nation’s railroads has improved since 1976, although the
Railroads Has Generally     most rapid decrease in accidents occurred before 1987. FRA and industry
Improved                    officials attribute these improvements to advancements in technology,
                            increased investment focused on a downsized infrastructure, and a more
                            scientific approach toward reducing injuries. However, class I freight
                            railroads, which account for most of the industry’s revenue and
                            train-miles, are now using fewer people, locomotives, and cars to haul
                            more tonnage over fewer miles of track. Labor officials believe that these
                            changes in operations could lead to more rail collisions and accidents as a
                            result of greater congestion and fewer qualified employees to perform
                            essential maintenance. While current safety trends are positive, it is
                            uncertain how further advancements in technology or reductions in
                            employment will affect safety in the future.

                            Nonetheless, further improvements in safety are needed, since more than
                            1,000 people die each year as a result of fatal collisions between cars and
                            trains or as a result of trespassers on railroad property being struck by
                            trains. Hazardous materials releases resulting from train accidents showed
                            no clear trends between 1978 and 1995. About 261,000 people were
                            evacuated across the United States because of rail-related hazardous
                            materials releases occurring over these years. Concerns remain about
                            evacuations because the volume of chemical traffic increased by over
                            one-third from 1976 to 1995.


FRA’s New Safety Strategy   Beginning in 1993, FRA reassessed its safety program to leverage the
Involves Partnerships       agency’s resources and established a cooperative approach that focused
                            on results to improve railroad safety. With rail traffic expected to grow
                            through the remainder of the 1990s and beyond, FRA anticipated the need
                            for new approaches to enhance site-specific inspections. As a result, FRA
                            formalized this shift with the establishment of three new initiatives. First,
                            in 1994, FRA took the lead responsibility for coordinating the Department
                            of Transportation’s multiagency plans to reduce fatalities at rail-highway
                            crossings. Second, in 1995, FRA formally established the Safety Assurance
                            and Compliance Program through which the agency works cooperatively
                            with railroad labor and management to identify and solve the root causes
                            of systemic problems facing the railroads. Third, in 1996, FRA established
                            the Railroad Safety Advisory Committee to develop recommendations for




                            Page 4                                       GAO/RCED-97-142 Rail Transportation
Executive Summary




the agency’s more complex or contentious rulemakings by seeking
consensus among the parties affected by the rulemakings.

It is too early to determine if FRA’s collaborative efforts will produce a
sustained decline in rail accidents and fatalities. FRA credits its
grade-crossing plan with contributing to a 19-percent drop in fatalities in
1996. Whether the plan contributed to the decline is uncertain: Past trends
indicate that the total number of railroad fatalities declined by 34 percent
from 1976 to 1983 (from 1,630 to 1,073) but then fluctuated within a range
of 1,036 and 1,324 deaths between 1983 and 1995. FRA has implemented its
Safety Assurance and Compliance Program with 33 railroads. This method
has improved the safety on many large railroads, but Norfolk Southern
Corporation has refused to participate until FRA substantiates safety
problems at the railroad. With regards to the Advisory Committee, the FRA
Administrator has referred seven major rulemaking tasks to it. While the
committee has developed proposed regulations on track safety and radio
communications standards, efforts to develop freight power brake
regulations have encountered problems in the negotiations among FRA,
railroad labor, and railroad management.

To accommodate the new initiatives, FRA has shifted some of its resources
away from site-specific inspections, which have historically served as FRA’s
primary means of ensuring compliance with safety regulations. The 53,113
inspections conducted in 1995 were 23 percent below the 68,715
inspections conducted in 1994. As a result, a greater number of railroads
are not receiving inspections, and inspectors are conducting fewer reviews
of the railroads’ own inspection efforts.

In addition, there are two important areas of railroad safety that FRA’s
collaborative approach does not systematically address: workplace safety
for railroad employees and the structural integrity of railroad bridges.
While a 1978 policy statement by FRA provides guidance on which
workplace safety issues FRA and OSHA should cover, the two agencies’
inspection presence on railroad property varies greatly. FRA routinely
inspects the railroads’ track, equipment, and operating practices. In
contrast, OSHA inspectors visit railroad property only in response to an
employee or union complaint about working conditions or when
investigating a workplace accident. In January 1997, FRA revised its injury
reporting requirements to capture additional information on workplace
injuries, including where an injury occurred, what activity was being
performed at the time, and what was the probable cause of the injury.
According to FRA, the new information will provide better data for future



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                     Executive Summary




                     rulemakings. Because these requirements only recently became effective,
                     FRA has yet to accumulate sufficient data for analysis. Once sufficient data
                     are collected, the agency will be able to determine the causes of the most
                     frequent and serious injuries and focus efforts on corrective actions.

                     FRA does not have regulations governing the structural integrity of the
                     100,700 railroad bridges in the nation. Instead, a 1995 Statement of Agency
                     Policy provides guidelines for railroads to use for the formulation of their
                     own bridge management programs. FRA inspectors do not cite specific
                     defects for bridge conditions, nor do they recommend violations, as they
                     do for track, signal, or equipment problems. Instead, FRA inspectors call
                     conditions to the attention of railroad bridge maintenance and engineering
                     officials. According to FRA, inspectors normally use informal procedures to
                     advise railroad personnel of bridge problems. If a bridge condition
                     presents a hazard of death or personal injury, and the bridge owner does
                     not correct the condition, FRA exercises its emergency authority to restrict
                     or prohibit train operation over the bridge. The railroad industry agrees
                     with FRA’s policy that regulations are not needed to address issues related
                     to structural conditions of bridges. Railroad labor officials disagree and
                     note that bridge safety is equally as important as track safety, for which
                     FRA has regulations.



                     GAO  recommends that the Secretary of Transportation direct the FRA
Recommendations      Administrator to, in cooperation with the industry, where appropriate,
                     (1) analyze injury data collected under the revised reporting requirements
                     to determine the workplace safety issues that lead to the most numerous
                     or the most serious injuries; (2) in areas where efforts to obtain voluntary
                     corrective action do not address the causes of these injuries, consider
                     developing regulations; and (3) use appropriate mechanisms, including the
                     Safety Assurance and Compliance Program, to ensure that a finding of
                     potential structural problems on a bridge is properly addressed by the
                     bridge owner.


                     GAO provided a draft of this report to the Department of Transportation
Agency Comments      (DOT) for its review and comment. GAO met with departmental officials,
and GAO’s Response   including the FRA Administrator, Deputy Administrator and Associate
                     Administrator for Safety. The officials indicated that they agreed with
                     many portions of the draft report’s historical perspective but said that the
                     report did not adequately reflect the more recent accomplishments and
                     potential of the Safety Assurance and Compliance Program. The officials



                     Page 6                                       GAO/RCED-97-142 Rail Transportation
Executive Summary




said that this program represents a fundamentally new approach to
working with railroads to ensure regulatory compliance and accelerate
safety improvements. The officials explained that although old methods of
encouraging regulatory compliance contributed to a substantial reduction
in railroad accidents between 1978 and 1986, the agency had determined
that further progress would require new approaches.

FRA officials maintained that the Safety Assurance and Compliance
Program provides the tools to leverage its limited resources while
achieving continued safety improvements. The approach was based on
President Clinton’s directive to federal regulatory agencies that inspection
and enforcement programs be designed to achieve results, not
punishment. The officials indicated that the program establishes a
framework for FRA to work cooperatively with railroad management and
labor to identify and solve key safety issues. The officials indicated that
while the program provides new tools to further enhance railroad safety,
FRA will continue to make full use of all the enforcement options at its
disposal as necessary and has begun to focus on enforcement where it is
most likely to reduce accidents, injuries, and hazardous materials releases.
FRA officials produced statistics that they maintain demonstrate the
program’s substantial accomplishments during the 3 years since its initial
implementation. Finally, while agreeing with two of GAO’s three
recommendations, FRA commented on GAO’s recommendation that the
agency consider developing regulations to address the issues that continue
to cause the most numerous or serious workplace injuries. FRA officials
said that the agency would limit its consideration of regulations to those
areas that are related to train operations.

In response to FRA’s comments, GAO included additional information on the
accomplishments the agency’s new rail safety program has achieved by
highlighting safety statistics for 1993 through 1996 and providing detailed
information on the successes with the Safety Assurance and Compliance
Program. GAO also included FRA’s performance goals for improving rail
safety that illustrate how rail safety has improved since 1993. However,
reaching conclusions on FRA’s new safety program by isolating safety
improvements over the most recent 3-year period ignores past trends in
railroad safety. Over the past 20 years, noteworthy reductions in railroad
accidents, fatalities, and injuries were often followed by periods in which
railroad safety subsequently worsened. As GAO concluded, it is too early to
tell if FRA’s efforts will sustain improvements in railroad safety over an
extended period of time. Finally, GAO disagrees with FRA’s contention that
the agency should limit its consideration of regulations to those areas that



Page 7                                      GAO/RCED-97-142 Rail Transportation
Executive Summary




are related to train operations. FRA would have matters related to non-train
operations under the purview of OSHA. But should FRA’s analysis of
workplace safety data show a preponderance of non-train-related injuries,
the agency should not foreclose the need to consider regulations covering
such injuries. Additional agency comments are included in chapter 3. FRA
officials had additional technical and clarifying comments that GAO
incorporated throughout the report, where appropriate.




Page 8                                      GAO/RCED-97-142 Rail Transportation
Page 9   GAO/RCED-97-142 Rail Transportation
Contents



Executive Summary                                                                                  2


Chapter 1                                                                                         12
                       The Federal Railroad Administration                                        12
Introduction           Changes in the Freight Railroad Industry                                   14
                       Objectives, Scope, and Methodology                                         24

Chapter 2                                                                                         27
                       Train Accidents Have Declined by 74 Percent                                27
Railroad Safety        Trends in Fatalities Have Been Stagnant Until Recently                     33
Trends                 Injuries and Illnesses Continue a Steady Downward Trend                    35
                       Thousands of People Are Evacuated Due to Hazardous Materials               36
                          Releases

Chapter 3                                                                                         39
                       FRA Has Established Three Key Initiatives to Improve Rail Safety           39
FRA Has Shifted to a   Inspection Efforts Have Changed Under the Partnering Approach              49
Partnership Approach   FRA Does Not Systematically Oversee Workplace and Bridge                   53
                         Safety
to Improve Railroad    Conclusions                                                                57
Safety                 Recommendations                                                            58
                       Agency Comments                                                            59

Appendixes             Appendix I: Methodology Used to Analyze Data From the Federal              62
                         Railroad Administration’s Railroad Inspection Reporting System
                       Appendix II: Safety Assurance and Compliance Program’s Senior              63
                         Management Meetings
                       Appendix III: FRA’s Rulemaking Actions                                     65
                       Appendix IV: Key Safety Statistics, Calendar Years 1993 Through            69
                         1996, and FRA’s Performance Goals
                       Appendix V: Major Contributors to This Report                              70

Tables                 Table 1.1: Change in Class I Freight Railroad Employment by                21
                         Category, Calendar Years 1976 Through 1995
                       Table 2.1: Comparison of Average Annual Decline in Types of                32
                         Accidents and Causes of Accidents per Million Train Miles,
                         Calendar Years 1976 Through 1987 and 1987 Through 1995
                       Table 3.1: FRA’s Rulemaking Actions Assigned to the Advisory               48
                         Committee




                       Page 10                                    GAO/RCED-97-142 Rail Transportation
          Contents




          Table 3.2: Railroads With No Inspections and Inspections in One            52
            or Two Disciplines, Calendar Years 1992 Through 1995
          Table 3.3: Percentage of Railroads That Received Records                   52
            Inspections, Calendar Years 1992 Through 1995
          Table II.1: Fiscal Year 1995 Meetings                                      63
          Table II.2: Fiscal Year 1996 Meetings                                      63
          Table II.3: Fiscal Year 1997 Meetings                                      64

Figures   Figure 1.1: Total Train Miles, Calendar Years 1976 Through 1995            16
          Figure 1.2: Class I Freight Railroads’ Revenue Ton Miles,                  18
            Calendar Years 1976 Through 1995
          Figure 1.3: Class I Freight Railroad Employment, Calendar Years            20
            1976 Through 1995
          Figure 1.4: Examples of Modern Maintenance-of-Way Equipment                22
          Figure 1.5: Miles of Track Owned by Class I Freight Railroads,             24
            Calendar Years 1976 Through 1995
          Figure 2.1: Total Train Accidents, All Railroads, Calendar Years           28
            1976 Through 1995
          Figure 2.2: Examples of Neglected Maintenance                              30
          Figure 2.3: Rail-Related Fatalities Per Million Train Miles, All           34
            Railroads, Calendar Years 1976 Through 1995
          Figure 2.4: Total Rail-Related Injuries and Illnesses per Million          35
            Train Miles, All Railroads, Calendar Years 1976 Through 1995
          Figure 2.5: Number of People Evacuated Due to Hazardous                    37
            Materials Releases, Calendar Years 1978 Through 1995
          Figure 3.1: Railroad Industry Fatalities, Calendar Years 1976              41
            Through 1995
          Figure 3.2: Chronology of FRA’s Rulemaking Procedures                      46
          Figure 3.3: Inspections and Defects, Calendar Years 1985 Through           51
            1995
          Figure 3.4: Injuries and Illnesses by Type of Person and                   54
            Occurrence, Calendar Years 1976 Through 1995



          Abbreviations

          AAR        Association of American Railroads
          DOT        Department of Transportation
          FRA        Federal Railroad Administration
          OSHA       Occupational Safety and Health Administration
          RSAC       Railroad Safety Advisory Committee
          SACP       Safety Assurance and Compliance Program


          Page 11                                    GAO/RCED-97-142 Rail Transportation
Chapter 1

Introduction


                       The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) enforces federal railroad safety
                       statutes under a delegation of authority from the Secretary of
                       Transportation. FRA’s mission is to protect railroad employees and the
                       public by ensuring the safe operation of freight and passenger trains. In
                       1980, the Congress passed the Staggers Rail Act, which fostered
                       substantial changes in the railroad industry. By 1995, fewer large railroads
                       accounted for most of the industry’s revenue and train miles. At the same
                       time, these railroads substantially reduced their workforce and track
                       networks.


                       FRA has three major safety-related activities: (1) administering safety
The Federal Railroad   statutes, regulations, and programs, including the development and
Administration         promulgation of standards and procedures, technical training,
                       administration of postaccident and random testing of railroad employees,
                       and management of rail-highway grade-crossing projects; (2) conducting
                       research on railroad safety and national transportation policy; and
                       (3) enforcing federal safety statutes, regulations, and standards by
                       inspecting railroad track, equipment, signals, and railroad operating
                       practices. FRA also enforces the provisions of the Hazardous Materials
                       Transportation Act as it applies to rail.


FRA’s Rulemaking       The impetus for rulemaking may come from the Congress; FRA’s research
Procedures             programs; inspections; the National Transportation Safety Board’s
                       recommendations; or railroad management, employees, or unions. FRA’s
                       Office of Safety develops safety rules that are promulgated following
                       requirements, such as those of the Administrative Procedure Act, that are
                       contained in statutes and orders and are generally applicable to executive
                       branch agencies, and other statutes and orders that are specifically
                       applicable to the Department of Transportation (DOT) or FRA, such as the
                       Federal Railroad Safety Act of 1970. Chapter 3 discusses FRA’s rulemaking
                       procedures in detail.


FRA’s Research and     FRA’s research and development programs provide scientific and
Development Programs   technological support for its rulemaking activities. FRA sponsors research
                       on safety and performance improvements to freight and passenger
                       equipment, operating practices, track structure, track components,
                       railroad bridge and tunnel structures, signal and train control systems, and
                       track-vehicle interaction. FRA also conducts research on the safety of




                       Page 12                                     GAO/RCED-97-142 Rail Transportation
                    Chapter 1
                    Introduction




                    high-speed ground transportation, including the development of safety
                    performance standards.


FRA’s Enforcement   FRA has an inspection system and the legal tools to enforce federal railroad
Procedures          safety statutes and regulations. FRA’s 270 railroad inspectors, who operate
                    under eight regional administrators, specialize in one of five disciplines:
                    motive power (e.g., locomotives) and equipment, track, signals, hazardous
                    materials, and operating practices. Several states, whose railroad
                    inspectors meet federal qualification standards, augment FRA’s inspection
                    force with about 130 additional inspectors.

                    When a condition or operating practice does not comply with federal
                    statutes, regulations, or orders, an inspector may verbally recommend
                    corrective action or prepare a defect report. As a result, the railroad
                    usually takes corrective action. When the inspector determines that the
                    best method of obtaining compliance is to assess a civil penalty, the
                    inspector prepares a violation report, which is essentially a
                    recommendation for a civil penalty—FRA’s most frequently utilized
                    enforcement tool.

                    In deciding whether to recommend civil penalties, an inspector is allowed
                    to exercise considerable judgment under FRA’s regulations. For example,
                    the inspector may consider the degree of variation from the standard, the
                    railroad’s general history of compliance, its general level of current
                    compliance, and the kind and degree of potential hazard under specific
                    circumstances. If the inspector observes defects that are likely to result in
                    injury, property damage, or loss of life, he or she is more likely to
                    recommend civil penalties. Recommendations for civil penalties are
                    reviewed at the regional level and by FRA’s Chief Counsel. Although a
                    schedule of initial civil penalties exists for specific infractions, the final
                    monetary assessment is negotiated between FRA and the railroad
                    considering several statutory settlement criteria, including the gravity of
                    the violation and the violator’s culpability and ability to pay.1 In addition,
                    individuals may be subject to civil penalties for willful violations of
                    statutes, regulations, or orders. Generally, penalties can be assessed for up
                    to $10,000 per violation. When the violation is a continuing one, each day
                    that the violation continues constitutes a separate offense. In 1995, FRA
                    closed over 1,300 civil penalty cases and collected over $5 million in fines.



                    1
                    Due to certain statutory requirements, cases brought under the Hazardous Materials Transportation
                    Act involve the use of more formal administrative procedures.



                    Page 13                                                   GAO/RCED-97-142 Rail Transportation
                         Chapter 1
                         Introduction




                         The Federal Railroad Safety Act of 1970 and related safety statutes also
                         provide FRA with more severe enforcement tools. FRA’s most severe
                         enforcement tool is the emergency order, which the agency may issue
                         when an unsafe condition or practice, or a combination of unsafe
                         conditions or practices, causes an emergency situation involving a hazard
                         of death or personal injury. FRA issued an emergency order in
                         February 1996 after fatal commuter railroad accidents in Silver Spring,
                         Maryland, and Secaucus, New Jersey, in which several people died. Among
                         other things, the emergency order required prompt action by passenger
                         and commuter railroads to develop emergency egress procedures that
                         included the identification, labeling, and safe operation of passenger
                         emergency exits. According to FRA’s Assistant Chief Counsel, the agency
                         has issued 20 emergency orders since 1970.

                         The agency also has the authority to issue compliance orders. FRA has used
                         this authority on a few occasions to achieve specific remedial actions
                         directed at improving compliance in specific areas. Unlike an emergency
                         order, however, FRA can issue compliance orders only after providing an
                         opportunity for a hearing.

                         Among its other enforcement tools, FRA also has the authority to issue
                         special notices requiring repairs and taking unsafe track or equipment out
                         of service. FRA issues about 80 to 100 special notices per year. FRA may also
                         seek injunctive relief. The U.S. Attorney General, acting on behalf of the
                         Secretary of Transportation, may seek a federal district court order to
                         restrain violations or enforce rules and standards issued under the railroad
                         safety laws. According to FRA’s Assistant Chief Counsel, the agency has
                         used this authority only once, to gain access to the property of a
                         hazardous materials shipper that was attempting to place unacceptable
                         restrictions on the access of FRA inspectors to its facilities.


                         FRA oversees an industry that has changed substantially over the past 20
Changes in the Freight   years. The 88 class I freight railroads that operated in 1976 declined to 14
Railroad Industry        in 1995, owing to mergers and acquisitions. The Staggers Rail Act of 1980
                         accelerated changes in the freight industry. The act provided the railroads
                         with greater flexibility to negotiate freight rates and respond to market
                         conditions. The act made it federal policy that freight railroads would rely,
                         where possible, on competition and the demand for services, rather than
                         on regulation to establish reasonable rates. As a result of changes fostered
                         by the act, today’s freight industry has fewer large railroads; hauls more




                         Page 14                                      GAO/RCED-97-142 Rail Transportation
                             Chapter 1
                             Introduction




                             tonnage over fewer miles of track; and employs fewer people,
                             locomotives, and railcars.


Large Railroads Continue     From 1976 through 1995, the number of class I freight railroads declined
to Merge While Total Train   due to mergers and acquisitions. In 1976, 88 class I freight railroads—the
Miles Decline                nation’s largest railroads—accounted for 98 percent of the industry’s
                             freight revenue, according to the Association of American Railroads (AAR),
                             and 89 percent of its train miles. Many of these railroads were earning a
                             negative rate of return or were moving toward insolvency; several
                             bankrupt northeastern railroads were consolidated into the Consolidated
                             Railroad Corporation, known as Conrail. In addition, years of declining
                             profits had led to deferred maintenance on rights-of-way and the
                             deterioration of railroad plant and equipment. Total train miles, a standard
                             measure of rail activity has declined for the entire industry since 1976.
                             However, in 1995, class I freight train miles were higher than 1976 levels.

                             By 1995, mergers, acquisitions, and changes in the definition of a class I
                             railroad had reduced the number of such railroads to 15—Amtrak (the
                             nation’s largest passenger railroad) and 14 freight railroads. In spite of the
                             reduction in the number of class I freight railroads, these railroads still
                             accounted for 91 percent of the industry’s freight revenue and 82 percent
                             of its train miles in 1995. The 14 class I freight railroads were the Atchison,
                             Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway; Burlington Northern Railroad Co.; Chicago
                             and North Western Railway Co.; Consolidated Rail Corp.; CSX
                             Transportation; Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad; Grand Trunk
                             Western Railroad, Inc.; Illinois Central Railroad Co.; Kansas City Southern
                             Railway Co.; Norfolk Southern Corp.; Soo Line Railroad Co.; Southern
                             Pacific Transportation Co.; St. Louis Southwestern Railway Co.; and Union
                             Pacific Railroad Co.

                             Since 1995, the trend in mergers has continued. Burlington Northern/Santa
                             Fe was created on September 22, 1995 from the merger of the Burlington
                             Northern Railroad Co. and the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway.
                             The two railroads officially began operating as a single railroad in 1996.
                             The merger of Union Pacific Railroad Co. and Southern Pacific
                             Transportation Co. in 1996 reduced the number of class I freight railroads
                             to 10. In 1997, CSX Transportation and Norfolk Southern Railway Co.
                             proposed to purchase Conrail, which could further reduce the number of
                             class I freight railroads. FRA officials believe that within the next 5 to 10
                             years, the remaining class I freight railroads could be merged into two
                             transcontinental railroads.



                             Page 15                                       GAO/RCED-97-142 Rail Transportation
                                          Chapter 1
                                          Introduction




                                          As the class I freight railroads merged, the number of regional and local
                                          railroads increased. FRA believes that the number of these types of
                                          railroads will continue to grow as the number of class I freight railroads
                                          shrinks due to mergers and acquisitions.

                                          While the number of class I freight railroads has declined and the number
                                          of nonclass I freight railroads has increased, overall industry operations
                                          are still below 1976 levels. As figure 1.1 shows, total train miles, commonly
                                          used by FRA and the railroad industry to measure the level of rail activity,
                                          fell 28 percent—from 774.8 million in 1976 to a low of 558.2 million in
                                          1983.


Figure 1.1: Total Train Miles, Calendar
Years 1976 Through 1995
                                           Train miles
                                           800,000,000




                                           600,000,000




                                           400,000,000




                                           200,000,000




                                                    0
                                                           76

                                                           77

                                                            78

                                                            79

                                                           80

                                                           81

                                                            82

                                                           83

                                                           84

                                                           85

                                                            86

                                                           87

                                                           88

                                                           89

                                                            90

                                                           91

                                                           92

                                                           93

                                                           94

                                                           95
                                                         19

                                                         19

                                                         19

                                                         19

                                                         19

                                                         19

                                                         19

                                                         19

                                                         19

                                                         19

                                                         19

                                                         19

                                                         19

                                                         19

                                                         19

                                                         19

                                                         19

                                                         19

                                                         19

                                                         19




                                                                                Calendar year



                                          Source: FRA.




                                          Page 16                                       GAO/RCED-97-142 Rail Transportation
                          Chapter 1
                          Introduction




                          Train miles have declined overall for the railroad industry. Since 1991,
                          total train miles have risen to 669.8 million, which is still below 1976 levels.
                          However, 1995 class I freight train miles exceeded their 1976 levels. In
                          1976, class I freight train miles were 424.8 million, compared with
                          458.3 million in 1995—an increase of 8 percent.


Tonnage on the Nation’s   Class I railroads have experienced growth in freight tonnage. In part, this
Railroads Has Increased   growth has occurred because of deregulation of the rail industry as well as
                          improvements in technology that enabled railroads to carry heavier loads
                          over longer distances. In addition, class I freight railroads invested heavily
                          in their infrastructure in the 1980s, improving both the capacity of their
                          track and freight cars. Industry experts believe that rail traffic will
                          continue to grow through 2006.

                          Since 1976, class I freight railroads have increasingly been able to carry
                          more tonnage over longer distances. For example, in 1995, each train
                          hauled an average of 2,870 tons—up from 1,954 tons in 1976, and the
                          average length of haul was 843 miles—up from 564 miles in 1976. As a
                          result, the class I freight railroads were able to increase revenue ton miles2
                          by 64 percent.3 As shown in figure 1.2, revenue ton miles increased from
                          794 billion in 1976 to over 1.3 trillion in 1995.




                          2
                           A revenue ton mile is the movement of 1 ton of revenue freight 1 mile.
                          3
                           The revenue ton mile totals exclude Amtrak.



                          Page 17                                                     GAO/RCED-97-142 Rail Transportation
                                         Chapter 1
                                         Introduction




Figure 1.2: Class I Freight Railroads’
Revenue Ton Miles, Calendar Years
1976 Through 1995                         Revenue ton miles
                                          1,400,000




                                          1,200,000




                                          1,000,000




                                           800,000




                                           600,000




                                           400,000




                                           200,000




                                                 0
                                                                                                                     86




                                                                                                                                           90




                                                                                                                                                                 94

                                                                                                                                                                         95
                                                                77

                                                                        78




                                                                                       81

                                                                                               82
                                                                               79




                                                                                                      83




                                                                                                             85




                                                                                                                            87

                                                                                                                            88

                                                                                                                                   89




                                                                                                                                                  91

                                                                                                                                                  92

                                                                                                                                                         93
                                                        76




                                                                               80




                                                                                                      84
                                                                             19




                                                                                                    19

                                                                                                    19

                                                                                                           19




                                                                                                                          19

                                                                                                                          19

                                                                                                                                 19




                                                                                                                                                19

                                                                                                                                                19

                                                                                                                                                       19
                                                      19




                                                                             19




                                                                                                                  19




                                                                                                                                        19




                                                                                                                                                              19

                                                                                                                                                                      19
                                                             19

                                                                     19




                                                                                    19

                                                                                            19




                                                                                                       Calendar year


                                         Source: AAR.




                                         Railroad officials said that improvements in railroad technology have
                                         allowed railroads to increase the average tonnage carried per train without
                                         requiring additional locomotives or freight cars. For example, class I
                                         freight railroads have replaced many of their older locomotives with
                                         newer ones that are more powerful and have better traction. As a result,
                                         these railroads have been able to reduce the number of locomotives in
                                         service by 32 percent. Also, while the average number of revenue tons per
                                         train load increased from 1976 to 1995, the average number of cars per
                                         train remained unchanged. The increase in tons carried per train resulted,
                                         in part, from the construction of lighter-weight cars made from aluminum,
                                         rather than steel. The freight railroads also upgraded their track in the
                                         1980s by replacing it with stronger rails and improved track ties. In
                                         addition, advancements in the strength of freight car wheel assemblies




                                         Page 18                                                                          GAO/RCED-97-142 Rail Transportation
                        Chapter 1
                        Introduction




                        have allowed the industry to use larger and longer freight cars and
                        increase their maximum gross load capacity from 263,000 to 315,000
                        pounds. Railroads have also introduced double-stacked cars for their
                        intermodal service, thereby increasing the carrying capacity of these cars.

                        Rail traffic is expected to continue to grow. In response to a draft of this
                        report, FRA officials indicated that total rail tonnage is expected to increase
                        at a rate of 1.5 percent annually through 2006. Coal, chemicals, farm
                        products, and intermodal traffic, which account for roughly 60 percent of
                        rail tons originated, are expected to increase over this period due to strong
                        demand. FRA officials believe that coal traffic will increase as the demand
                        for coal increases, particularly for electricity generation, and that the
                        demand for chemicals by textile and paper mills and tire producers will
                        fuel the growth in chemical traffic. Farm product traffic—mostly for grain
                        shipments—is forecasted to increase with higher crop yields for domestic
                        production as well as a greater number of exports. Finally, FRA officials
                        believe that intermodal traffic—which grew at a rate of 5 percent per year
                        from 1986 through 1995—will continue to grow, but at a slower rate.


Reductions in Class I   Class I freight railroad employment has declined by more than 60 percent
Freight Railroad        since 1976 and is forecast to continue declining over the next 10 years.
Workforce               Meanwhile, nonclass I freight railroad employment has increased. New
                        technology, compromises from labor, and railroad mergers have each
                        contributed to the class I freight railroads’ ability to diminish their
                        workforces.

                        From 1976 through 1995, class I freight railroads reduced their workforce
                        by 61 percent—from 483,000 to 188,000 employees (see fig. 1.3).4
                        According to FRA, some of the decline in class I freight railroad
                        employment was offset by a growth in regional railroad and short-line
                        employment. However, total employee hours worked across the entire
                        industry—not just for the class I freight railroads—declined by 52 percent
                        during this period, suggesting that employment did not entirely shift from
                        large to small railroads.5 As table 1.1 shows, downsizing affected all
                        categories of railroad employees.




                        4
                         Employment statistics exclude contractors.
                        5
                         Average annual employment totals were not available for the entire industry.



                        Page 19                                                    GAO/RCED-97-142 Rail Transportation
                                       Chapter 1
                                       Introduction




Figure 1.3: Class I Freight Railroad
Employment, Calendar Years 1976
                                         Employees
Through 1995
                                         500,000




                                         400,000




                                         300,000




                                         200,000




                                         100,000




                                                 0
                                                       76

                                                       77

                                                       78

                                                       79

                                                       80

                                                       81

                                                       82

                                                       83

                                                       84

                                                       85

                                                       86

                                                       87

                                                       88

                                                       89

                                                       90

                                                       91

                                                       92

                                                       93

                                                       94

                                                       95
                                                     19

                                                     19

                                                     19

                                                     19

                                                     19

                                                     19

                                                     19

                                                     19

                                                     19

                                                     19

                                                     19

                                                     19

                                                     19

                                                     19

                                                     19

                                                     19

                                                     19

                                                     19

                                                     19

                                                     19
                                                                                        Calendar year


                                       Source: AAR and the Railroad Retirement Board.




                                       Page 20                                                  GAO/RCED-97-142 Rail Transportation
                                           Chapter 1
                                           Introduction




Table 1.1: Change in Class I Freight
Railroad Employment by Category,           Employment                             Calendar year          Calendar year            Percent
Calendar Years 1976 Through 1995           category                                       1976                   1995             change
                                           Executives, officials, and
                                           staff assistants                                16,105                10,708               –34
                                           Professional and
                                           administrative                                  99,312                26,940               –73
                                           Maintenance-of-way and
                                           structuresa                                     86,901                40,033               –54
                                           Maintenance-of-
                                           equipment and storesb                         102,996                 37,106               –64
                                           Transportation (other than                      34,130                 9,597               –72
                                           train and engine)c
                                           Transportation (train and                     143,438                 63,831               –55
                                           engine)d
                                           Total                                         482,882                188,215               –61
                                           a
                                           Employees who maintain track, signal systems, buildings, and bridges.
                                           b
                                               Employees who maintain or repair locomotives and freight cars.
                                           c
                                           Employees such as dispatchers and telegraphers.
                                           d
                                               Employees such as engineers, conductors, and brakemen.



                                           Source: AAR and the Railroad Retirement Board.


                                           In a response to a draft of this report, FRA officials said that the Railroad
                                           Retirement Board estimates that class I railroad employment will continue
                                           to decline to 143,000 by 2006—a 24-percent decline from 1995 employment
                                           levels. Regional and short-line employment was also forecast to decline.

                                           According to railroad industry representatives, technology innovations,
                                           labor concessions, and railroad mergers enabled the class I freight
                                           railroads to achieve this reduction. For example:

                                       •   Modern maintenance-of-way equipment has reduced the number of
                                           maintenance-of-way and structures employees in a tie gang (a group of
                                           railroad employees assembled to conduct track maintenance) from
                                           between 7 and 15 to between 3 and 5. Figure 1.4 shows examples of
                                           modern maintenance-of-way equipment.




                                           Page 21                                                     GAO/RCED-97-142 Rail Transportation
                                         Chapter 1
                                         Introduction




Figure 1.4: Examples of Modern Maintenance-Of-Way Equipment




                                         Source: AAR.




                                     •   End-of-train devices—electronic boxes that monitor brake-line pressure
                                         and are attached to the train’s last car—have replaced almost all cabooses
                                         and their crews, resulting in a 25-percent reduction in train crew size.
                                     •   Electronic waybilling and computerization have considerably reduced the
                                         need for clerical personnel to track the location and contents of freight
                                         cars.
                                     •   Improvements in traffic control systems have increased line capacity.
                                     •   Labor concessions reduced the average train crew size from four to two or
                                         three—including the elimination of the fireman position (a position that
                                         was important during the era of steam locomotives)—allowed greater
                                         distances before a crew change, and allowed employees to perform tasks
                                         in more than one craft.6
                                     •   Mergers have contributed to the reduction in class I freight railroads from
                                         88 in 1976 to 14 in 1995. With these mergers came reductions in
                                         employment.
                                     •   The Staggers Rail Act made it easier for railroads to abandon unprofitable
                                         or duplicative lines or sell them to short-line and regional railroads. The


                                         6
                                          A craft constitutes a particular type of job. For example, electrical workers and welders would belong
                                         to different crafts.



                                         Page 22                                                     GAO/RCED-97-142 Rail Transportation
                         Chapter 1
                         Introduction




                         elimination of these lines allowed the larger railroads to make further
                         employment reductions.


Reductions in Miles of   The Staggers Rail Act of 1980 made it easier for freight railroads to cease
Track Owned by Class I   unprofitable operations. Accordingly, the class I freight railroads
Freight Railroads        eliminated, abandoned, or sold 41 percent of their trackage (see fig. 1.5).
                         According to AAR, class I freight railroad traffic was not distributed evenly
                         over the entire network that they owned in the 1970s. Most of the track
                         that the class I freight railroads eliminated was little-used and expensive to
                         maintain. However, most of the traffic has been and still is on the main
                         lines. In addition to reductions in employment, the reduction in track miles
                         has allowed the class I freight railroads to concentrate their capital
                         investments on improving their high-volume main-line corridors. The
                         railroads are enlarging or eliminating tunnels, increasing bridge
                         clearances, and expanding electronic signal systems over more main-line
                         corridors. For example, Conrail and the state of Pennsylvania completed a
                         3-year capacity improvement project along Conrail’s main line from
                         Pittsburgh to Philadelphia. This project increased tunnel and bridge
                         clearances along the corridor, which enabled Conrail to use
                         double-stacked container cars and thereby move more commerce into
                         Philadelphia.




                         Page 23                                      GAO/RCED-97-142 Rail Transportation
                                      Chapter 1
                                      Introduction




Figure 1.5: Miles of Track Owned by
Class I Freight Railroads, Calendar
Years 1976 Through 1995                Track miles
                                       350,000




                                       300,000




                                       250,000




                                       200,000




                                       150,000




                                       100,000




                                        50,000




                                            0
                                                    76

                                                    77

                                                   78

                                                    79

                                                   80

                                                   81

                                                   82

                                                    83

                                                   84

                                                   85

                                                   86

                                                    87

                                                   88

                                                   89

                                                   90

                                                    91

                                                   92

                                                   93

                                                   94

                                                   95
                                                 19

                                                 19

                                                 19

                                                 19

                                                 19

                                                 19

                                                 19

                                                 19

                                                 19

                                                 19

                                                 19

                                                 19

                                                 19

                                                 19

                                                 19

                                                 19

                                                 19

                                                 19

                                                 19

                                                 19
                                                                           Calendar year



                                      Source: AAR.




                                      FRA officials said that the total rail network is projected to decline slightly
                                      each year. The net effect of the slow decrease in the rail network, together
                                      with the slight increase in traffic on the main lines, will be to increase the
                                      concentration of rail traffic on some lines.


                                      In view of the changes that have occurred in the railroad industry over the
Objectives, Scope,                    past 20 years and concerns about overall safety in the railroad industry,
and Methodology                       the Ranking Democratic Member of the House Committee on
                                      Transportation and Infrastructure, the Ranking Democratic Member of
                                      that Committee’s Subcommittee on Railroads, and Representative Bruce F.
                                      Vento asked us to describe (1) relationships that exist between




                                      Page 24                                        GAO/RCED-97-142 Rail Transportation
Chapter 1
Introduction




operational and safety trends in the railroad industry from 1976 to 1995
and (2) FRA’s approach to improving safety on the nation’s rail system.

To address the first objective, we obtained information on the operational
trends in the railroad industry from the AAR and safety statistics from FRA’s
annual safety bulletins for 1976 through 1995 (the most recent edition
available). FRA officials also provided us with preliminary safety statistics
for 1996. Because of time limitations, we did not perform a reliability
assessment on the automated database that is the source for FRA’s
bulletins. AAR and FRA are the primary sources for information on
operational and safety trends in the railroad industry for the 20-year period
of our review. However, the data from AAR and FRA are not directly
comparable because they cover different aspects of the railroad industry.
AAR’s data provide important information on how the freight industry has
changed since 1976, such as the miles of track owned and number of
locomotives and cars used. AAR collects these data only for the class I
freight railroads. In contrast, FRA’s safety data cover the entire
industry—both freight and passenger (including commuter) railroads.
FRA’s 20-year data could not be segregated to isolate safety statistics only
for the class I freight railroads. Although class I freight railroads account
for 91 percent of the industry’s freight revenue and 82 percent of its train
miles, any direct comparison with safety data that are not limited
specifically to class I freight railroads would be inconclusive. Accordingly,
we were not able to reach conclusions on whether there are direct
relationships between operational trends in the freight industry and safety
trends for the entire industry. However, chapter 1 provides information on
operational trends in the freight industry. Chapter 2 provides information
on safety trends in the entire industry and presents the views of FRA, rail
management, and labor unions on how freight operational changes might
have affected railroad safety. Chapter 3 then describes how FRA has
responded to these operational and safety trends and developed a new
partnering approach to improving safety on the nation’s rail lines.

We also discussed operational and safety issues with FRA’s Administrator
and Deputy Administrator and officials from three headquarters
offices—Chief Counsel, Safety Enforcement, and Safety Analysis; officials
of the National Transportation Safety Board; railroad labor
representatives; officials at AAR; Operation Lifesaver7; the Chemical
Manufacturers Association; Railroad Retirement Board; and the National



7
 An organization that receives private and federal funds to conduct rail-highway grade-crossing safety
programs throughout the country.



Page 25                                                     GAO/RCED-97-142 Rail Transportation
Chapter 1
Introduction




Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association. We also reviewed
several reports by the National Transportation Safety Board.

To address the second objective, we met with FRA officials and reviewed
FRA documents on the new programs and associated activities. Our review
included the October 1996 agency report to the Congress assessing the
benefits of the current safety program, as well as FRA notices in the
Federal Register and rulemaking dockets. In gauging industry reaction to
FRA’s new programs, we met with officials of AAR, the American Short Line
Railroad Association, the Regional Railroads of America, and several labor
organizations. Finally, in order to examine how FRA’s new programs have
affected resources available to oversee the railroad industry, we obtained
and analyzed data on FRA’s inspection activities contained in the Railroad
Inspection Reporting System database for calendar years 1992 through
1995. (See app. I for more details on this system.)

To obtain a first-hand perspective of railroad operations and of how FRA’s
safety strategy is being implemented in the field, we interviewed FRA’s
regional administrators and inspectors in two field offices. We also
interviewed officials and observed operations at the Burlington
Northern/Santa Fe Railway, a class I railroad; the Maryland Midland
Railway, a small railroad; and the Belt Railway of Chicago and Houston’s
Port Terminal Railroad Association, both of which perform switching and
terminal operations for larger railroads. Additionally, we observed
research activities at AAR’s Transportation Test Center in Pueblo,
Colorado.

For information on workplace safety, we interviewed officials from FRA
and the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health
Administration (OSHA). We also talked with officials in several states that
have the authority to operate their own occupational health and safety
programs: California, Kentucky, Minnesota, Vermont, and Wisconsin. We
also reviewed appropriate legislation, regulations, and agency documents
governing workplace safety oversight. We conducted our work from July
1996 through June 1997 in accordance with generally accepted
government auditing standards.

We provided a draft of this report to DOT for its review and comment. We
met with FRA’s Administrator, Deputy Administrator, and Associate
Administrator for Safety. FRA’s comments and our response are provided in
the executive summary and the end of chapter 3.




Page 26                                     GAO/RCED-97-142 Rail Transportation
Chapter 2

Railroad Safety Trends


                       Railroad safety has generally improved over the past 20 years. Railroad
                       accident rates are down from 1976 levels, but the rate of decline has
                       slowed since 1987. Further improvements in safety are needed, since, in
                       1995, over 1,000 people died in railroad accidents and incidents, 11,000
                       railroad employees were injured, and nearly 3,000 people were evacuated
                       from their homes as a result of hazardous materials released from train
                       accidents.


                       As shown in figure 2.1, the number of train accidents declined from 10,248
Train Accidents Have   in 1976 to 2,619 in 1995—a 74-percent reduction. The number of accidents
Declined by 74         per million train miles showed similar improvements with a 70-percent
Percent                decline during this same period.1 While the number of accidents declined
                       rapidly prior to 1987, progress continued at a slower rate from 1987 to
                       1995. As chapter 1 noted, class I freight railroads, which account for most
                       of the industry’s freight revenue and more than three-quarters of its train
                       miles, are using fewer people, locomotives, and cars to haul more tonnage
                       over fewer miles of track. On the one hand, labor officials contend that
                       these changes could lead to more rail collisions and accidents as a result
                       of greater congestion and fewer qualified employees to perform essential
                       maintenance. In addition, FRA inspectors have observed signs of degraded
                       maintenance on some railroads in their recent inspections. On the other
                       hand, AAR and rail management contend that (1) most congestion is
                       confined to rail yards and (2) the railroads have employed better
                       scheduling and technology to maintain the rail infrastructure. In addition,
                       detailed safety statistics show continued reductions in accidents resulting
                       from collisions, derailments, track problems, and human errors.




                       1
                        Showing accidents per million train miles takes into account changing rail activity over the years.



                       Page 27                                                      GAO/RCED-97-142 Rail Transportation
                                         Chapter 2
                                         Railroad Safety Trends




Figure 2.1: Total Train Accidents, All
Railroads, Calendar Years 1976
Through 1995                              Train accidents
                                          12,000




                                          10,000




                                           8,000




                                           6,000




                                           4,000




                                           2,000




                                              0
                                                      79

                                                      80




                                                      87

                                                      88

                                                      89

                                                      90
                                                     76

                                                     77

                                                     78




                                                     81

                                                     82

                                                     83

                                                     84

                                                     85

                                                     86




                                                     91

                                                     92

                                                     93

                                                     94

                                                     95
                                                   19

                                                   19

                                                   19




                                                   19

                                                   19

                                                   19

                                                   19

                                                   19

                                                   19




                                                   19
                                                   19




                                                   19
                                                   19




                                                   19

                                                   19

                                                   19
                                                   19

                                                   19

                                                   19

                                                   19
                                                                              Calendar year


                                         Source: FRA.




Rail Labor Believes That                 Between 1976 and 1995, the number of train miles for class I freight
Congestion and Lack of                   railroads increased by 7 percent, while these railroads decreased the
Maintenance Could Affect                 number of track miles they owned by 41 percent during the same period.
                                         These changes suggest that more traffic is being concentrated on
Rail Accidents                           substantially fewer miles of track, resulting in more congestion and the
                                         potential for more collisions. In addition, a senior rail labor official said
                                         that reductions in railroad dispatchers (employees who control train
                                         movements) lend further concern about their ability to ensure safety.
                                         Some class I railroads have created large control centers from which
                                         dispatchers direct train movements throughout the railroad’s network.
                                         According to the official, dispatchers in these centers have larger
                                         territories to control and are less familiar with their territories than in the
                                         past when they covered smaller territories. These factors increase the
                                         chances that a dispatcher could direct two trains to occupy the same
                                         location at the same time.




                                         Page 28                                         GAO/RCED-97-142 Rail Transportation
Chapter 2
Railroad Safety Trends




In addition to the reduction in dispatchers, labor officials say that
reductions in maintenance crews could affect accident and collision rates.
For example, the number of maintenance-of-equipment and stores
employees at class I railroads declined by 64 percent from 1976 through
1995. Many of these employees are carmen who repair and maintain
railcars. Railroad labor officials contend that the reduction in qualified
carmen to maintain railcars has resulted in the railroads’ using unqualified
train crews to inspect trains prior to departing terminals. As a result, labor
officials said that railroads are dispatching unsafe trains.

In addition, a labor representative noted that maintenance requirements
for track have increased substantially as the industry has increased the
amount of tonnage carried in each car. While the installation of heavier rail
has mitigated some of the effects of heavier loads, fasteners and ties need
more frequent attention. Labor-saving devices have reduced the need for
some employees, but labor officials believe that such devices are oriented
toward major renewal projects, rather than day-to-day maintenance. As a
result, maintenance crews tend to spend much of their time attending to
crises. Finally, the officials told us that increases in traffic volume are
making it more difficult to complete needed maintenance on the rail lines,
although machinery that gets to the work site faster and does the job
faster has helped.

FRA inspectors have observed safety problems on some class I freight
railroads which they attribute to reduced maintenance. For example, the
trackage on one class I freight railroad, which in previous years had
exceeded FRA’s safety standards, had subsequently degraded to the point at
which it minimally met the standards. In the case of another class I freight
railroad, FRA inspectors found that the railroad did not have sufficient
signal maintainers to test the systems and make necessary repairs. As a
result, inspectors found signal structures that had decayed to a condition
such that railroad employees could not climb them to perform routine
inspections. The inspectors also observed signal wires that were not
properly covered and thereby exposed to poor weather conditions. Figure
2.2 shows these conditions.




Page 29                                      GAO/RCED-97-142 Rail Transportation
                                         Chapter 2
                                         Railroad Safety Trends




Figure 2.2: Examples of Neglected Maintenance




                                         Source: FRA.




                                         Our analysis of AAR’s data for class I freight railroads lends some support
                                         to the inspectors’ observations. Although class I freight railroads had
                                         41 percent less track to maintain in 1995 than in 1976, during this same
                                         period these railroads eliminated 54 percent of the employees who
                                         maintain the track, resulting in fewer maintenance employees per track
                                         mile. For example, in 1976, these railroads employed 86,901
                                         maintenance-of-way and structures employees to maintain 304,100 miles
                                         of track—a ratio of 29 employees per 100 miles of track. In 1995, these
                                         railroads employed 40,033 maintenance-of-way and structures employees
                                         to maintain 180,419 miles of track—a ratio of 22 employees per 100 miles




                                         Page 30                                     GAO/RCED-97-142 Rail Transportation
                            Chapter 2
                            Railroad Safety Trends




                            of track. As a result, the number of maintenance-of-way and structures
                            employees per 100 miles of track dropped by 22 percent from 1976
                            through 1995 for class I freight railroads.

                            Representatives from labor unions said that railroads must make more
                            investments in technologies that will improve safety. Labor officials noted
                            that positive train separation—a system designed to prevent collisions—is
                            one safety investment that the railroads should make.


Railroad Management         According to a senior AAR official, congestion on the railroads’ main lines
Believes That Mergers and   has not increased significantly. Although the railroads have eliminated,
Technology Improvements     sold, or abandoned many miles of track, the AAR official said that most of
                            the traffic today remains concentrated over the same main lines used 20
May Lessen Rail Accidents   years ago. In addition, FRA and railroad officials said that most congestion
                            occurs in and around rail yards. In locations where main-line congestion
                            has become a problem, the railroads are adding capacity as needed,
                            according to railroad and AAR officials. However, AAR was not able to
                            provide expenditure data on the railroads’ total investments made to
                            increase rail-line capacity. In addition, FRA did not have data that showed
                            where congestion exists on the nation’s rail lines.

                            According to a senior official of a class I railroad, railroads are
                            cooperating with one another to reduce potential congestion. For
                            example, the Union Pacific and Southern Pacific Railroads have converted
                            parallel tracks to one-way operations in opposite directions, thereby
                            greatly increasing the tracks’ combined capacity. The official said that
                            mergers of major railroads have resulted in other similar arrangements.
                            Mergers have also eliminated some of the need to interchange cars at
                            freight yards, which allows trains to avoid some of the more congested
                            areas.

                            According to AAR officials, advancements in the strength of freight car
                            wheel assemblies have allowed the industry to use larger and longer
                            freight cars and increase their maximum gross load capacity from 263,000
                            to 315,000 pounds. These heavier loads place more stress on the rails,
                            which could imply the need for additional maintenance. However, AAR
                            officials said that the impact of these cars on the rail infrastructure is
                            mitigated by new cars that are constructed with lighter materials. The
                            officials also said that reducing the amount of track that the class I freight
                            railroads owned allowed them to concentrate their capital investments on
                            maintaining their remaining track and associated signal systems. Part of



                            Page 31                                       GAO/RCED-97-142 Rail Transportation
                                       Chapter 2
                                       Railroad Safety Trends




                                       this capital investment involved the installation of stronger rail and better
                                       ties to stand up to the increased loads. AAR officials believe that these
                                       factors have reduced accidents caused by track and signal defects.

                                       AAR officials also said that neither congestion nor employment reductions
                                       have adversely affected railroads’ ability to perform maintenance on the
                                       tracks. By carefully scheduling maintenance windows and using
                                       labor-saving devices that get the job done using fewer employees, the
                                       railroads have been able to maintain tracks in spite of heavier traffic. For
                                       example, in one instance, a railroad arranged for advance delivery of its
                                       coal and shut down a complete line for a week. By working around the
                                       clock, the railroad completely rebuilt the line over the course of the week.

                                       AAR officials noted that if safety problems were occurring, they would
                                       show up in statistical data. As table 2.1 shows, while the overall accident
                                       rate declined more rapidly between 1976 and 1987, it continued to decline
                                       by 2 percent per year after 1987. In addition, collisions and accidents
                                       caused by failed equipment, signals, or track defects also continued to
                                       decline.

Table 2.1: Comparison of Average
Annual Decline in Types of Accidents   Types and causes of                     Average annual percentage decline
and Causes of Accidents Per Million    accidents                                       1976-87                     1987-95
Train Miles, Calendar Years 1976
                                       All accidents                                         9                           2
Through 1987 and 1987 Through 1995
                                       Collisions                                           10                           4
                                       Accidents caused by failed
                                       equipment                                            11                           6
                                       Accidents caused by signal
                                       or track defects
                                                                                            10                           2
                                       Accidents caused by human
                                       error                                                 6                           0

                                       Source: GAO’s analysis of FRA’s data.


                                       AAR also contends that the slowing of improvements in the accident rate
                                       should not be attributed to employee reductions but to railroads’ having
                                       already addressed the easiest-to-solve safety problems. Most of the
                                       reductions in railroad employees who inspect, repair, and operate trains
                                       occurred by the end of 1987. AAR noted that further reductions in accidents
                                       will be more difficult to achieve.




                                       Page 32                                          GAO/RCED-97-142 Rail Transportation
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                       For example, human factors-caused accidents, which declined by an
                       annual average rate of 6 percent between 1976 and 1987, showed no
                       decline from 1987 through 1995.2 AAR recognizes that human
                       factors-caused accidents continue to be a problem. One class I freight
                       railroad commissioned a study on employee fatigue in an effort to better
                       understand how to reduce these types of accidents further. However, FRA’s
                       preliminary data for 1996 show a 19-percent reduction in human
                       factors-caused accidents from 1995 levels. In addition, railroad labor noted
                       that statistical data may overstate the role of human error in rail accidents.
                       Labor officials told us that railroad management favors placing the blame
                       on the operator whenever possible, when the accident may have actually
                       been caused by faulty track or equipment. If such cases had been reported
                       as equipment- or track-caused accidents, human factors-caused accidents
                       could have declined between 1987 and 1995, rather than remaining
                       unchanged on average and may have declined even more sharply in 1996.


                       In 1993, the fatality rate per million train miles stood at 2.08, only 1 percent
Trends in Fatalities   lower than the 1976 rate.3 However, beginning in 1994, the fatality rate
Have Been Stagnant     declined significantly and in 1995 stood at 1.71 fatalities per million train
Until Recently         miles, as shown in figure 2.3. Additionally, when factoring in risk
                       exposure, which FRA defines as motor vehicle miles traveled multiplied by
                       the train miles, the accident rate declined in most years since 1976.
                       Despite this progress, about 1,100 people were killed in 1995 on the
                       nation’s rail lines. Most of these deaths (94 percent) were the result of
                       either fatal collisions between cars and trains at highway grade crossings
                       or trespassers killed by trains while on railroad property.




                       2
                        Human factors-caused accidents are those caused by operator error, such as missing a stop signal or
                       exceeding speed restrictions.
                       3
                        The fatality rates are presented per million train miles to take into account changing rail activity over
                       the years.



                       Page 33                                                       GAO/RCED-97-142 Rail Transportation
                                          Chapter 2
                                          Railroad Safety Trends




Figure 2.3: Rail-Related Fatalities Per
Million Train Miles, All Railroads,
Calendar Years 1976 Through 1995              Fatalities per million train miles
                                              2.50




                                              2.00




                                              1.50




                                              1.00




                                              0.50




                                              0.00
                                                        6

                                                        7

                                                        8

                                                        9

                                                        0

                                                        1

                                                        2

                                                        3

                                                        4

                                                        5

                                                        6

                                                        7

                                                        8

                                                        9

                                                        0

                                                        1

                                                        2

                                                        3

                                                        4

                                                        5
                                                     197

                                                     197

                                                     197

                                                     197

                                                     198

                                                     198

                                                     198

                                                     198

                                                     198

                                                     198

                                                     198

                                                     198

                                                     198

                                                     198

                                                     199

                                                     199

                                                     199

                                                     199

                                                     199

                                                     199
                                                                                           Calendar year


                                          Source: FRA.




                                          Since 1993, declines in the fatality rates at grade crossings and for
                                          trespassers contributed to the drop in the overall fatality rate. This decline
                                          coincides with DOT’s implementation of its Grade Crossing Safety Action
                                          Plan in June 1994. We reported on DOT’s efforts to improve rail-highway
                                          crossing safety in 1995.4 The report described engineering, educational,
                                          and enforcement methods that federal and state governments and the
                                          railroad industry could pursue to improve rail crossing safety. Chapter 3
                                          contains additional information on DOT’s plans.




                                          4
                                           Railroad Safety: Status of Efforts to Improve Railroad Crossing Safety (GAO/RCED-95-191, Aug. 3,
                                          1995).



                                          Page 34                                                    GAO/RCED-97-142 Rail Transportation
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                                          Railroad Safety Trends




                                          In addition to overall declines in accidents and fatalities, rail-related
Injuries and Illnesses                    injuries and illnesses per million train miles declined since 1976. Railroads
Continue a Steady                         must report injuries that require medical treatment or result in work
Downward Trend                            restrictions and lost work days.5 As figure 2.4 shows, the injury and illness
                                          rate per million train miles declined from 84.32 in 1976 to 21.56 in 1995—a
                                          74-percent drop. This reduction resulted in 50,891 fewer injuries and
                                          illnesses in 1995 than in 1976. Three-quarters of these injuries and illnesses
                                          affected railroad employees.


Figure 2.4: Total Rail-Related Injuries
and Illnesses Per Million Train Miles,
All Railroads, Calendar Years 1976            Injuries and illnesses per million train miles
Through 1995                                  120.00




                                              100.00




                                               80.00




                                               60.00




                                               40.00




                                               20.00




                                                0.00
                                                         76

                                                         77

                                                         78

                                                         79

                                                         80

                                                         81

                                                         82

                                                         83

                                                         84

                                                         85

                                                         86

                                                         87

                                                         88

                                                         89

                                                         90

                                                         91

                                                         92

                                                         93

                                                         94

                                                         95
                                                       19

                                                       19

                                                       19

                                                       19

                                                       19

                                                       19

                                                       19

                                                       19

                                                       19

                                                       19

                                                       19

                                                       19

                                                       19

                                                       19

                                                       19

                                                       19

                                                       19

                                                       19

                                                       19

                                                       19




                                                                                            Calendar year

                                          Source: FRA.




                                          5
                                           FRA’s data combine injuries and illnesses. Injury and illness rates are presented per million train miles
                                          to take into account changing levels of rail activity over the years.



                                          Page 35                                                      GAO/RCED-97-142 Rail Transportation
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                       According to industry representatives, as the railroads reduced their
                       number of employees, the chances for workers to be injured declined as
                       well. Additionally, railroads began to implement experimental safety
                       programs aimed at reducing lost work days for those remaining
                       employees. One railroad, for example, began an experimental “napping
                       strategy” to reduce the affects of fatigue, whereby train engineers are
                       permitted short naps while other crew members remain alert. Despite the
                       improvements in employee safety, about 11,000 railroad employee injuries
                       and illnesses were reported to FRA in 1995. Workplace safety is discussed
                       in chapter 3.


                       Each year thousands of people are evacuated because train accidents
Thousands of People    caused the release of hazardous materials. As figure 2.5 shows, the number
Are Evacuated Due to   of people evacuated ranged from 2,852 in 1995 to 39,701 in 1986. The figure
Hazardous Materials    also shows that hazardous materials releases resulting from train
                       accidents are often random events and episodic; the number of people
Releases               evacuated relates to whether or not the spill occurred near a population
                       center. For example, a hazardous material release resulting from a
                       Baltimore and Ohio Railroad accident in Miamisburg, Ohio, contributed to
                       the large number of evacuations in 1986. When a tank car filled with
                       poisonous phosphorous derailed, the resulting chemical releases forced
                       30,000 people to evacuate their homes. Between 1978 and 1995, about
                       261,000 people were evacuated across the United States because of
                       rail-related hazardous materials releases—an average of about 14,500
                       people evacuated each year. If the 1986 evacuations were excluded, the
                       annual average would fall to 13,039. Concerns remain about evacuations
                       because the volume of chemical traffic has increased by over one-third
                       from 1976 to 1995.




                       Page 36                                    GAO/RCED-97-142 Rail Transportation
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                                         Railroad Safety Trends




Figure 2.5: Number of People Evacuated Due to Hazardous Materials Releases, Calendar Years 1978 Through 1995


People evacuated
50,000




40,000




30,000




20,000




10,000




     0
           1978 1979 1980 1981 1982 1983 1984 1985 1986 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995
                                                  Calendar year

                                         Note: These data reflect evacuations reported to FRA by the railroads. These data may differ from
                                         information reported by the National Transportation Safety Board, which uses evacuations
                                         reported by the local municipalities.

                                         Source: FRA.




                                         Page 37                                                   GAO/RCED-97-142 Rail Transportation
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In recent years, the rail and chemical industries have improved tank cars
to lessen the chances that they will release hazardous materials during
accidents. For example, manufacturers have reinforced the ends of
tankcars, adding metal jackets with thermal protection systems to those
transporting certain hazardous materials to resist puncture during
accidents. In addition, researchers found that during derailments,
adjoining cars would uncouple from hazardous materials cars allowing the
ends of the cars to ram into one another. As a result, new couplers were
designed and installed on tank cars to make them less likely to uncouple
during a derailment. These and other improvements were mandated in a
series of rules issued by DOT over the past 20 years. FRA’s data show that
the collective efforts of FRA and the industry, combined with fewer
derailments, helped to reduce hazardous materials releases per million
train miles by 77 percent from 1978 to 1995.




Page 38                                    GAO/RCED-97-142 Rail Transportation
Chapter 3

FRA Has Shifted to a Partnership Approach
to Improve Railroad Safety

                          In response to operational and safety trends within the railroad industry,
                          in 1993, FRA began to institute an important shift in its safety program.
                          Rather than using violations and civil penalties as important means to
                          improve railroad safety, FRA now emphasizes cooperative partnerships
                          with railroad management, labor, the states, and other federal agencies to
                          reduce railroad accidents, fatalities, and injuries. Accordingly, FRA has
                          developed cooperative plans to reduce grade-crossing accidents, promote
                          voluntary industry compliance with federal safety statutes and regulations,
                          and achieve consensus on complex and contentious railroad safety rules.
                          The partnering efforts generally focus on the nation’s larger railroads and
                          have resulted in FRA inspectors’ conducting fewer site-specific inspections
                          of the railroad industry overall. While preliminary data for 1996 shows
                          improvements in key safety statistics, it is too early to determine if FRA’s
                          new approach will sustain a long-term decline in accidents and fatalities.
                          In addition, there are two important areas of railroad safety that FRA’s
                          collaborative approach does not systematically address: workplace safety
                          for railroad employees and the structural integrity of railroad bridges.


                          Beginning in 1993, FRA reassessed its safety program to leverage the
FRA Has Established       agency’s resources and establish a cooperative approach that focused on
Three Key Initiatives     results to improve railroad safety. With rail traffic expected to grow
to Improve Rail Safety    through the remainder of the 1990s and beyond, FRA anticipated the need
                          for new approaches to enhance its site-specific inspections. As a result,
                          FRA formalized this shift from inspection to collaboration with the
                          establishment of three new initiatives. First, in 1994, FRA took the lead
                          responsibility for coordinating DOT’s multiagency plans to reduce fatalities
                          at rail-highway crossings. Second, in 1995, FRA formally established a
                          Safety Assurance and Compliance Program through which the agency
                          works cooperatively with railroad labor and management to identify and
                          solve the root causes of systemic problems facing the railroads. Third, in
                          1996, FRA established the Railroad Safety Advisory Committee to develop
                          recommendations for the agency’s more complex or contentious
                          rulemakings by seeking consensus among the affected parties.


DOT Works With Industry   About 94 percent of railroad fatalities occur as a result of either fatal
and States to Improve     collisions between cars and trains at highway grade crossings or
Rail-Highway Crossing     trespassers killed by trains while on railroad property. Since many federal,
                          state, and local agencies have enforcement or coordinating roles in
Safety                    reducing these fatalities, FRA cannot reduce fatality rates solely through its
                          own rulemaking and enforcement actions. Accordingly, FRA took the lead



                          Page 39                                      GAO/RCED-97-142 Rail Transportation
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FRA Has Shifted to a Partnership Approach
to Improve Railroad Safety




role, in 1994, when DOT initiated the Rail-Highway Crossing Safety Action
Plan—an effort targeting federal, state, and industry efforts in improving
rail-highway crossing safety and reducing fatalities among trespassers. To
successfully implement the plan, FRA is working with the Federal Highway,
National Highway Traffic Safety, and Federal Transit Administrations; the
states, railroads, and the Congress to strengthen education and research
activities; enhance federal, state, and local enforcement efforts; and
increase or preserve federal rail-highway crossing safety funds. In the
action plan, DOT established a 10-year goal to reduce the number of
rail-highway grade-crossing accidents and fatalities by 50 percent. As of
January 1997, DOT agencies were making progress in implementing 52 of
the 55 proposals included in the action plan. Of the 52 proposals, 15 were
complete; some of the remaining were intended to be continuing efforts.

In March 1996, the DOT released a second report focusing on
grade-crossing safety. That report, titled Accidents That Shouldn’t Happen,
focused on developing solutions to communications and coordination
problems among the many agencies involved in ensuring grade crossing
safety. Such problems had been cited in the investigation of the collision in
October 1995 between a school bus and a commuter train in Fox River
Grove, Illinois, in which seven students died. The report made 24
recommendations directed at improving communications and
coordination between railroads and highway authorities and developing or
expanding options in each of these areas. DOT has continued to monitor
and encourage the implementation of these recommendations.

As shown in figure 3.1, the number of fatalities in the railroad industry has
declined since 1976.




Page 40                                      GAO/RCED-97-142 Rail Transportation
                                            Chapter 3
                                            FRA Has Shifted to a Partnership Approach
                                            to Improve Railroad Safety




Figure 3.1: Railroad Industry Fatalities,
Calendar Years 1976 Through 1995
                                             Fatalities
                                             2,000




                                             1,500




                                             1,000




                                               500




                                                 0
                                                         6

                                                         7

                                                         8

                                                         9

                                                         0

                                                         1

                                                         2

                                                         3

                                                         4

                                                         5

                                                         6

                                                         7

                                                         8

                                                         9

                                                         0

                                                         1

                                                         2

                                                         3

                                                         4

                                                         5
                                                      197

                                                      197

                                                      197

                                                      197

                                                      198

                                                      198

                                                      198

                                                      198

                                                      198

                                                      198

                                                      198

                                                      198

                                                      198

                                                      198

                                                      199

                                                      199

                                                      199

                                                      199

                                                      199

                                                      199
                                                                                    Calendar year

                                            Source: GAO’s analysis of FRA’s data.




                                            The period of decline in fatalities began with the establishment of the
                                            Rail-Highway Crossing Program in 1974 (also known as the section 130
                                            program because of its origin in title 23 of the United States Code). Over
                                            the next 23 years, the Congress appropriated about $5.8 billion (in
                                            constant 1997 dollars) for states to improve safety at rail-highway
                                            crossings. According to DOT officials, during the early years of the
                                            program, states were able to focus their initial efforts on the most
                                            dangerous crossings, thereby contributing to a significant reduction in
                                            deaths in the late 1970s and early 1980s.




                                            Page 41                                           GAO/RCED-97-142 Rail Transportation
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                          FRA Has Shifted to a Partnership Approach
                          to Improve Railroad Safety




                          The steady decline in railroad fatalities stopped in 1983, followed by
                          several years in which increases in deaths in one year were followed by
                          sharp drops in the next year. FRA estimates that total fatalities declined to
                          1,022 in 1996—the lowest level in 20 years. In addition, rail-highway
                          grade-crossing collisions declined by 15 percent between 1993 and 1996.
                          FRA attributed the improved statistics to their safety initiatives which
                          includes the rail-highway crossing program. Whether the plan contributed
                          to the decline is uncertain: Past trends indicate the total number of
                          railroad fatalities declined by 34 percent from 1976 to 1983 (from 1,630 to
                          1,073) but then fluctuated within a range of 1,022 and 1,324 deaths
                          between 1983 and 1996. Additionally, when normalized for risk—taking
                          into account the annual change in vehicle and train miles—collision and
                          fatality rates continued a steady rate of decline, rather than declining more
                          rapidly in recent years.


Safety Assurance and      In 1994, FRA began the Safety Assurance and Compliance Program (SACP)
Compliance Program        with the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad and Southern Pacific
Seeks Voluntary           Railroad. These initial reviews were followed by FRA’s announcement in
                          March 1995 formally establishing the SACP process. FRA initiated the
Cooperation of Railroad   program in response to a period of little decline in accident statistics and
Management and Labor      the belief that a continuation of existing approaches would not produce
                          any further declines. In commenting on a draft of this report, FRA officials
                          also said that SACP is an outgrowth of President Clinton’s directive to
                          federal regulatory agencies that their inspection and enforcement
                          programs be designed to achieve results, not punishment. SACP seeks to
                          address safety problems at the level where they originate: If a problem is
                          systemic in nature, FRA seeks a systemwide solution to the problem’s root
                          causes. When solutions are identified, they are embodied in the SACP action
                          plan; FRA then monitors to ensure that commitments are fulfilled. While
                          most major railroads are participating in the SACP process, one major
                          railroad—Norfolk Southern—has refused to participate until FRA
                          substantiates safety problems at the railroad.

                          The SACP process consists of four elements: a safety profile, senior
                          management meetings, a safety action plan, and a safety audit. First, rail
                          labor and management work with FRA and states to develop a safety profile
                          of the railroad. The safety profile takes 2 to 6 months to prepare,
                          depending on the size of the railroad and the complexity of the relevant
                          issues. The profile includes descriptions of the railroad’s safety strengths
                          and weaknesses, reported accidents, summaries of previous inspections,
                          summaries of “listening sessions” with railroad labor and management,



                          Page 42                                      GAO/RCED-97-142 Rail Transportation
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and other safety concerns. Once FRA identifies the root causes of any
systemic safety issues raised in the safety profile, it requests a meeting
with the railroad’s senior management and labor representatives. During
the meeting, FRA presents the safety profile, which FRA, rail management,
labor, and the states will use to negotiate the details of the safety action
plan. FRA expects the railroads to develop these plans within 30 to 60 days.
The action plan then becomes the “informal contract” under which the
railroad voluntarily remedies its safety problems. Although the length of
time that specific railroads require to complete their action plans varies on
the basis of the complexity of the issues, FRA expects the railroads to
complete the plans within 1 year.

FRA inspectors monitor the railroad’s compliance with the safety action
plan through a safety audit, in conjunction with their routine site-specific
inspections. During this period, unless a particular violation is severe, FRA
suspends the assessment of civil penalties for defects related to systemic
problems as long as the railroad is making a good-faith effort to identify
the problems and develop its action plan. If FRA finds that the railroad is
not making a good-faith effort in executing its action plan, FRA is likely to
process the civil penalties that it held in abeyance. FRA officials believe
that the threat of this enforcement is an important tool for motivating the
industry toward FRA’s goal of zero accidents and zero injuries. FRA officials
believe that this focus results in more significant improvements in safety
than what the agency achieved under its traditional site-specific
inspections.

Initially, FRA planned on closing out SACP activities at a railroad once the
railroad addressed the safety defects cited in the safety profile. However,
FRA has found that the SACP has established lines of communication with
railroad labor and management and between railroad labor and
management. Because the safety profiles are discussed in meetings with
senior railroad management, these high-level managers have become
involved in the safety process. FRA officials said that SACP has also helped
gain the railroads’ voluntary cooperation in taking corrective action on
safety issues that are not covered under FRA’s safety regulations.
Accordingly, FRA plans to continue to use the process to identify systemic
problems and root causes in the future. Over time, FRA expects that a
railroad will develop a series of action plans, which FRA will monitor for
completion.

According to FRA, it has been able to use the SACP process to successfully
address systemic problems at larger railroads. For example, FRA initiated a



Page 43                                      GAO/RCED-97-142 Rail Transportation
Chapter 3
FRA Has Shifted to a Partnership Approach
to Improve Railroad Safety




SACP with Burlington Northern/Santa Fe Railroad in the aftermath of a
February 1, 1996, derailment in Cajon Pass, California. When the train’s
braking systems failed, the subsequent derailment and fire killed two crew
men and closed Interstate 15 for several days. A similar accident had
occurred at the same location 14 months earlier. After the February
accident, FRA sent 56 inspectors to conduct a safety compliance review of
the railroad in conjunction with the California Public Utilities
Commission. During the 8-day review, FRA prevented the railroad from
operating any trains until safety problems were resolved. FRA identified 13
specific safety issues and required the railroad’s management, in
conjunction with labor, to develop an action plan to remedy these issues.
According to FRA, the railroad successfully addressed all of the issues
during the following months.

Following the first Cajon Pass accident, the railroad had agreed to install
two-way end-of-train devices on those trains operating in the Cajon Pass
area. According to FRA, such a device might have prevented the second
accident. The derailed train in the second accident had a two-way
end-of-train device but it was not switched on. FRA found that the safety
culture of the railroad had eroded to the point that supervisors and
employees found it acceptable to operate trains with inoperative two-way
end-of-train devices and to cut other corners in mechanical inspections
and repairs.

According to FRA, its review resulted in changes in the railroad’s operating
rules for the Cajon Pass area, improved quality control practices,
redistribution of supervisory personnel to ensure an equal quality of
supervision over all shifts, and a review of event recorder data on every
train descending from the pass to ensure that rules were followed. FRA
credits the SACP for the progress that has been made in changing the
railroad’s culture and believes that such changes could not have occurred
if FRA had only enforced existing regulations.

As of January 1997, FRA had conducted initial SACP meetings with
management at 33 railroads and planned to initiate SACPs at 21 additional
railroads by the end of fiscal year 1997 (see app. II). FRA does not plan to
conduct a SACP assessment of all of the more than 600 railroads in the
United States. Instead, according to the Director of the Office of Safety
Analysis, FRA inspectors are expected to look for root causes of defects
found at smaller railroads through FRA’s traditional site-specific
inspections. FRA cites improvements in safety statistics since 1993 as
evidence that the SACP is improving safety throughout the nation’s railroad



Page 44                                     GAO/RCED-97-142 Rail Transportation
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                          FRA Has Shifted to a Partnership Approach
                          to Improve Railroad Safety




                          system. From 1993 through 1996, rail-related fatalities declined by
                          20 percent, employee injuries declined by about 40 percent, and train
                          accident rates declined by 16 percent.

                          However, SACP still depends on the cooperation of the railroads. For
                          example, Norfolk Southern has not participated in the SACP. The railroad’s
                          position is that until FRA can identify specific areas of noncompliance, it
                          will not participate. FRA officials do not believe that the issue is closed and
                          plan to discuss the matter again with Norfolk Southern at a later date. FRA
                          officials said that they may need to apply a more traditional enforcement
                          approach if Norfolk Southern continues to rebuff the agency’s SACP
                          initiatives.


Premature to Assess       In March 1996, FRA established a Railroad Safety Advisory Committee
Results From Actions of   consisting of representatives from railroad management, labor unions, and
FRA’s Railroad Safety     others representing various rail industry perspectives, to provide FRA with
                          recommendations on important rail safety issues through a
Advisory Committee        consensus-based process. FRA decided to form the committee based on
                          what the agency believed to be a successful experience in developing its
                          Roadway Worker Safety rule through a collaborative process. FRA uses the
                          Advisory Committee to obtain input from those most affected by
                          regulatory decisions, improve the quality of rules, reduce the time required
                          to complete them, and reduce the likelihood of litigation after they are
                          promulgated. Since the inception of the committee, the FRA Administrator
                          has referred seven major rulemaking tasks to it, most of which were for
                          rulemakings initiated prior to its establishment. FRA has not yet issued any
                          final rules developed by the committee. However, the committee has
                          proposed revisions to the track safety standards that the Congress
                          mandated FRA to complete by September 1995. In addition, the committee
                          has proposed revisions to the radio communications standards. While it is
                          too early to measure the committee’s success in meeting FRA’s objectives,
                          efforts to develop freight power brake regulations have encountered
                          problems in the negotiations between FRA and the industry.

                          The Advisory Committee is composed of 48 representatives from 27
                          member organizations. The committee is chaired by FRA’s Associate
                          Administrator for Safety and includes representatives of the Association of
                          American Railroads, the American Short Line Railroad Association, state
                          governments, and numerous labor groups. In addition, the Mexican
                          Transport Minister and the Canadian Transport Minister have one
                          nonvoting seat each.



                          Page 45                                       GAO/RCED-97-142 Rail Transportation
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                                                     FRA Has Shifted to a Partnership Approach
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                                                     Once FRA refers a regulatory task to the Advisory Committee, it forms a
                                                     working group that represents the membership of the full committee. The
                                                     working group in turn can establish task forces to pursue specific issues.
                                                     For each task assigned, the working group addresses the relevant facts,
                                                     defines the safety problem presented, develops a range of options, and
                                                     decides upon a recommendation. Once the working group has achieved
                                                     unanimous consensus, it presents its recommendation to the full
                                                     committee. If the full committee accepts the recommendation by either
                                                     unanimous or majority consensus, it is sent to the FRA Administrator, who
                                                     can in turn, accept, reject, or modify the recommendation. Of the seven
                                                     rulemaking tasks that have been referred to the committee, two have been
                                                     referred to the Administrator.

                                                     As shown in figure 3.2, when FRA has made a decision to regulate, the
                                                     Advisory Committee can provide recommendations with respect to either
                                                     the agency’s proposed or final action, or both. FRA will refer these matters
                                                     separately to the committee on a case-by-case basis.



Figure 3.2: Chronology of FRA’s Rulemaking Procedures


                                                                                   FRA review and if significant,
                                           FRA researches issue and                Office of the Secretary of
     Decision to regulate                  develops draft Notice of                Transportation followed by               Notice of Proposed
                                           Proposed Rulemaking                     Office of Management and                 Rulemaking published
                                                                                   Budget review




                                                                                   FRA review and if significant,
                                             FRA reviews hearing                   Office of the Secretary of
    Hearing, comments                                                              Transportation followed by                 Final rule published
                                             testimony and comments
                                             and drafts final rule                 Office of Management and
                                                                                   Budget review



     Points at which Railroad Safety Advisory Committee consensus process may be used.




                                                     Source: GAO’s analysis.




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As the figure shows, the committee’s participation supplements rather
than eliminates required steps in the rulemaking process. For example,
under departmental procedures and executive orders, significant proposed
rules are reviewed and approved by the Office of the Secretary and the
Office of Management and Budget (OMB) before FRA issues notices of
proposed rulemaking.1 In addition, a 60-day public comment period and
public hearing are provided. Furthermore, significant final rules are
reviewed and approved by the Office of the Secretary and OMB before
publication. However, FRA officials believe that since the affected parties
are directly involved in the development of rules through consensus, there
will be fewer and less contentious comments on notices of proposed
rulemaking, fewer public hearings on proposed rules, fewer changes to
proposed rules, and less litigation after rules are finalized.

As table 3.1 shows, FRA has referred seven rulemaking tasks to the
committee.




1
 DOT defines the term “significant regulation” to include any regulation that involves important
departmental policy. For OMB’s review, Executive Order 12866 defines the term significant regulation
to include an action likely to result in a rule that may raise novel legal or policy issues arising out of
legal mandates, the President’s priorities, or the principles set forth in the executive order.



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Table 3.1: FRA’s Rulemaking Actions
Assigned to the Advisory Committee                                                                                     Date rule was
                                                                      Source of                                        tasked to the
                                                                      decision to              Legal                   Advisory
                                      Title                           regulate                 deadline                Committee
                                      Locomotive                      Rail Safety              Final rule or report, 10/31/96a
                                      Crashworthiness and             Enforcement and          3/3/95
                                      Working Conditions              Review Act-9/3/92
                                      Qualification and           Petitions to        None                             10/31/96
                                      Certification of Locomotive reconsider aspects
                                      Engineers                   of an existing rule
                                      Track Safety Standards          Rail Safety              Final, 9/1/95           4/1/96b
                                                                      Enforcement and
                                                                      Review Act-9/3/92
                                      Reinvention of Steam            Reinventing              None                    7/24/96
                                      Locomotive Inspection           government effort
                                      Regulations
                                      Radio                  Rail Safety        None                                   4/1/96d
                                      Communication-Advanced Enforcement and
                                      Train Control System   Review Act-9/3/92c
                                      Freight Power Brakes            Rail Safety              Final, 12/31/93         4/1/96
                                                                      Enforcement and
                                                                      Review Act-9/3/92
                                      Track Motor Vehicle and         Petition to develop      None                    10/31/96
                                      Roadway Equipment               a rule
                                      Safety
                                      a
                                       The Rail Safety Enforcement and Review Act required FRA to complete a rulemaking proceeding
                                      to consider prescribing regulations in this area within 30 months of enactment. The act required
                                      FRA to report to the Congress if it decided, based on the rulemaking proceeding, not to prescribe
                                      regulations. FRA reported the results of its investigation to the Congress in September 1996 and
                                      subsequently referred the matter to the Advisory Committee.
                                      b
                                       The Advisory Committee voted to recommend a proposal to the FRA Administrator in November
                                      1996. FRA published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on July 3, 1997.
                                      c
                                       The Rail Safety Enforcement and Review Act required a safety inquiry regarding railroad radio
                                      standards and procedures, and FRA committed to revise its rules based on this study.
                                      d
                                       The Advisory Committee voted to recommend a proposal to the FRA Administrator in April 1997.
                                      FRA published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on June 26, 1997.



                                      Source: GAO’s analysis. (See app. III for full inventory of FRA’s rulemaking actions.)


                                      Most of the tasks referred to the committee were complex or controversial
                                      rulemaking activities that FRA had been working on for several years. For
                                      example, FRA had been working on the Locomotive Crashworthiness,
                                      Track Safety, Radio Communication-Advanced Train Control, and Freight
                                      Power Brake rules for 4 years before referring them to the Advisory




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                     Committee. In two cases, FRA had missed the congressional mandate to
                     issue final rules.2 However, the committee developed a recommendation
                     on track safety standards within 7 months after the FRA Administrator
                     referred the task to it and has recommended revisions to FRA’s rules on
                     radio communications. FRA has prepared notices of proposed rulemaking
                     based on both the track and radio communications recommendations. FRA
                     published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on track safety standards on
                     July 3, 1997 and a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on radio
                     communications on June 26, 1997.

                     If the FRA Administrator believes that the Advisory Committee’s action on
                     proposed rules are not progressing or have reached a stalemate, the
                     Administrator can withdraw the task from the committee and direct FRA
                     staff to develop their own proposed rule without benefit of a consensus
                     recommendation. As of June 1997, the Administrator was considering such
                     action due to a stalemate in negotiations on the freight power brake rule.
                     The problems in negotiations centered on who should inspect trains,
                     where trains should be inspected, and how often they should be inspected.
                     In January 1997, FRA issued two technical bulletins that specified how
                     inspectors were to enforce existing power brake rules and inspection
                     requirements under the freight car safety standards. According to FRA
                     officials, the bulletins were intended to give inspectors guidance on when
                     to issue violations on the improper inspection of power brakes and freight
                     cars. However, AAR protested the move by bringing a court challenge and
                     by filing a petition to reconsider with FRA, stating that FRA was
                     promulgating new standards without going through the rulemaking
                     process. As of June 1997, FRA and AAR were still working to resolve the
                     dispute.


                     The collaborative approach that FRA has adopted for obtaining voluntary
Inspection Efforts   compliance with railroad safety rules has shifted some of FRA’s resources
Have Changed Under   away from site-specific inspections, which have historically served as FRA’s
the Partnering       primary means of ensuring compliance with safety regulations. This shift
                     is most evident in the 23-percent decline in the number of inspections
Approach             conducted between 1994 and 1995. As a result, a greater number of
                     railroads are not receiving inspections, and inspectors are conducting
                     fewer reviews of the railroads’ own inspection efforts.




                     2
                     Originally due by March 1995, FRA’s report on Locomotive Crashworthiness and Cab Working
                     Conditions was issued in September 1996.



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FRA’s efforts to increase cooperation with the railroad industry to
promulgate and enforce rail safety regulations adds new responsibilities
for its 270 inspectors. New responsibilities include participating in SACP
activities, such as listening sessions with rail management and labor to
identify safety issues and team inspections to develop rail safety profiles.
Inspectors also participate in the Advisory Committee’s working groups
and task forces. Nearly all inspectors participate in SACP either in
conducting formal listening sessions with labor, participating in senior
management meetings, or focusing on SACP-related issues when
conducting routine site-specific inspections.

As figure 3.3 shows, the 67,966 field inspections FRA conducted in 1985 had
increased slightly to 69,423 by 1992. However, inspections began to decline
in 1993 and declined further to 53,113 by 1995. The number of inspections
conducted in 1995 was 23 percent below the 68,715 inspections conducted
in 1994.3 The decline occurred across all of FRA’s disciplines (track,
equipment, signals, hazardous materials, and operating practices) but most
notably in operating practices, which experienced a 41-percent decline.
(Operating practices inspectors are responsible for enforcing federal
regulations governing the operation of trains.) The number of inspections
at class I railroads declined by 24 percent while inspections at smaller
railroads declined by 19 percent between 1994 and 1995. Figure 3.3 also
shows that after gradually increasing during the late 1980s, the number of
defects FRA inspectors cited declined from 391,233 in 1989 to 270,312 in
1995—a 31-percent drop. Defects are instances of noncompliance with
federal safety regulations, for which railroads are expected to take
corrective action. For example, inspectors would cite defects for cracks
found on rail track. According to FRA officials, defects declined because
fewer inspections were conducted during this period, and inspectors may
have overreacted to FRA’s emphasis on cooperation and partnering.




3
 Our data show the number of inspection reports. While FRA inspectors sometimes reported
inspections in different disciplines on the same report before 1995, this became a more general
practice in 1995 when FRA introduced a new form that was specifically designed to record inspections
in more than one discipline. Although the number of forms submitted to FRA declined with the use of
the new form, our data reflect the number of inspection reports regardless of the number of forms
submitted.



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Figure 3.3: Inspections and Defects,
Calendar Years 1985 Through 1995       Inspections                                                                      Defects
                                           80,000                                                                          400,000



                                           75,000

                                                                                                                           350,000

                                           70,000



                                           65,000                                                                          300,000



                                           60,000

                                                                                                                           250,000

                                           55,000



                                           50,000                                                                          200,000
                                                    1985            1987       1989         1991       1993         1995
                                                                                 Calendar year
                                                           Inspections
                                                           Defects


                                       Source: GAO’s analysis of FRA’s data.




                                       In commenting on a draft of this report, FRA officials said that the agency
                                       never intended to eliminate or discourage the use of enforcement tools. In
                                       April 1997, FRA issued guidance to all of its safety personnel in an effort to
                                       clarify that enforcement—while not an end in itself—is an essential
                                       element of SACP. The guidance explains the concept of “focused
                                       enforcement,” which encourages inspectors to concentrate their
                                       enforcement efforts where they will do the most good, that is, where
                                       accident trends, inspection data, direct observations, and/or the violation’s
                                       inherent seriousness indicates that enforcement action is needed to
                                       address a significant safety risk.

                                       The decline in total inspections has also resulted in a greater number of
                                       railroads not receiving inspections. As table 3.2 shows, the number of
                                       railroads that received no inspections by FRA increased from 43 to 95
                                       between 1992 and 1995. Although these railroads only reported nine




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                                        accidents during this period, it is FRA’s goal to inspect all railroads at least
                                        once a year.

Table 3.2: Railroads With No
Inspections and Inspections in One or                                                         Railroads                Railroads with
Two Disciplines, Calendar Years 1992                                                            with no          inspections in one or
Through 1995                            Year                                               inspectionsa               two disciplinesa
                                        1992                                                          43                             187
                                        1993                                                          50                             214
                                        1994                                                          66                             245
                                        1995                                                          95                             271
                                        a
                                         The number of railroads receiving inspections in each year has been adjusted to combine parent
                                        railroads with their subsidiaries.



                                        Source: GAO’s analysis of FRA’s data.


                                        In addition, many railroads received inspections in only one or two of the
                                        five inspection disciplines. As shown in table 3.2, the number of railroads
                                        receiving inspections in only one or two disciplines increased from 187 in
                                        1992 to 271 in 1995.

                                        The reduction in total inspections also has resulted in FRA inspectors’
                                        conducting fewer reviews of the railroads’ own inspections—known as
                                        records inspections. Our analysis of FRA’s inspection data also found that
                                        between 1992 and 1995, the percentage of inspected railroads in which FRA
                                        completed a records inspection declined sharply in each discipline. Table
                                        3.3 shows that the drop was most precipitous in 1995.

Table 3.3: Percentage of Railroads
That Received Records Inspections,      Amounts in percents
Calendar Years 1992 Through 1995                                 Percentage of railroads inspected, by type of inspection
                                                                                                             Hazardous        Operating
                                        Year                      Track     Equipment            Signal       materials       practices
                                        1992                         60               42              64              34                  60
                                        1993                         58               43              51              32                  54
                                        1994                         55               40              44              32                  52
                                        1995                         32               12              34              21                  47

                                        Source: GAO’s analysis of FRA’s data.




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                             The nation’s railroads are primarily responsible for conducting safety
                             inspections of their equipment and facilities and keeping records of their
                             inspections. FRA’s responsibility is to monitor the inspection activity of the
                             railroads. FRA’s policy advises inspectors to prepare for an inspection by
                             reviewing a railroad’s inspection records. According to FRA’s policy
                             standards, these records are a good source of information for FRA
                             inspectors about the extent to which a railroad has met the regulatory
                             requirements and about the type of problems the railroad has found.


                             During our review of FRA’s rail safety approach, we identified two issues
FRA Does Not                 that the agency’s partnering or inspection efforts do not systematically
Systematically               address: improving the workplace safety of railroad employees and
Oversee Workplace            ensuring that railroad bridges receive inspection oversight comparable to
                             other railroad areas. FRA has chosen not to issue regulations addressing
and Bridge Safety            many workplace safety issues, although railroad employees accounted for
                             most of the 14,400 rail-related injuries and illnesses that occurred in 1995.
                             In addition, FRA’s 1995 decision not to promulgate bridge safety regulations
                             requires FRA personnel to rely primarily on voluntary correction of
                             potential problems with bridge safety.


Employee Workplace           The number of rail-related injuries and illnesses has declined from 65,331
Safety and Health Receive    in 1976 to 14,440 in 1995. As figure 3.4 shows, most of these injuries and
Less Oversight Than Other    illnesses involve railroad employees.4 Railroads must report injuries that
                             require medical treatment or result in work restrictions and lost work
Aspects of Railroad Safety   days.




                             4
                              Data on injuries and illnesses by type of person and occurrence were available only for calendar years
                             1979 through 1995.



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Figure 3.4: Injuries and Illnesses by Type of Person and Occurrence, Calendar Years 1976 Through 1995


  Injuries and illnesses
  80,000




  60,000




  40,000




  20,000




        0
              1979 1980 1981 1982 1983 1984 1985 1986 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995
                                                   Calendar year

               Employees on duty (excludes crossings)
               At highway/rail crossings and/or involving trespassers
               Passengers (excludes crossings)
               Other (excludes crossings)

                                                   Source: GAO’s analysis of FRA’s data.




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Efforts to reduce injuries to workers must rely on the combined efforts of
FRA and OSHA.5 For example, FRA oversees safety issues intrinsic to railroad
operations such as ensuring that employees are not struck by moving
trains because they did not follow FRA’s safety procedures while working
on railroad track.6 OSHA, on the other hand, is responsible for employee
safety and health issues that would be associated with any industrial
workplace. For example, OSHA would ensure that employees using welding
equipment while working on the track used appropriate safety equipment,
such as goggles.

While a 1978 policy statement by FRA provides guidance on which
workplace safety and health issues FRA or OSHA should cover, the two
agencies’ inspection presence on railroad property varies greatly. For
example, in 1995, FRA conducted over 50,000 inspections of track, railroad
equipment, and operating practices related to train operations. In contrast,
OSHA inspectors normally visit railroad properties only in response to an
employee or union complaint about working conditions or when
investigating a workplace accident that resulted in the injury of three or
more employees.7

Labor representatives expressed concern that because of OSHA’s limited
resources, certain workplace safety and health issues are not adequately
addressed under the split responsibility. For example, labor
representatives pointed out that pipe insulation and gaskets often contain
asbestos, but there is no guidance from FRA on how to handle these
hazardous materials. FRA inspectors told us that they look for unsafe work
practices or situations when conducting site inspections. When they
observe unsafe work practices, such as an employee welding without
proper eye protection, inspectors can point out the problem to railroad
supervisory personnel for voluntary compliance. However, FRA inspectors
have no authority to cite railroads for workplace safety problems that fall


5
 The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 gave the Secretary of Labor responsibility for
promulgating and enforcing occupational safety and health standards. Section 4(b)(1) provides that
the act does not apply to working conditions where another federal agency exercises statutory
authority to prescribe or enforce standards or regulations affecting occupational safety or health. The
Federal Railroad Safety Act of 1970 allows the Secretary of Transportation to develop regulations that
parallel standards under the Occupational Safety and Health Act and preempt the Secretary of Labor
from enforcing such standards in the railroad industry.
6
 FRA has developed some regulations relating to the safety of railroad employees, such as those
concerning safety for roadway and bridge workers.
7
 OSHA administers workplace safety programs in 25 states, while the remaining states administer their
own OSHA-approved programs. Some of the state-administered programs follow OSHA’s procedures for
inspections, while others do not.



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                         under OSHA’s jurisdiction if the railroad does not voluntarily comply with
                         the inspector’s suggestions.

                         In January 1997, FRA revised its injury reporting requirements to capture
                         additional information on workplace injuries, including where the injury
                         occurred, what activity was being performed at the time, what tools were
                         used, and what was the probable cause. According to FRA, new codes were
                         developed to isolate injuries and provide better data for future
                         rulemakings. Because these requirements only recently became effective,
                         FRA has yet to accumulate sufficient data for analysis. Once sufficient data
                         are collected, FRA will be able to determine the causes of the most frequent
                         and/or serious injuries and illnesses and focus its efforts and those of the
                         industry on corrective actions. The refined data will also allow FRA to
                         determine if additional regulations are needed. In the interim, FRA will
                         continue to provide to the regions data on workers’ injuries along with the
                         accident and inspection data that the regions now receive for planning
                         purposes.


FRA’s Policy Relies on   Rather than issue regulations governing the structural integrity of the
Industry to Inspect      nation’s 100,700 railroad bridges, FRA is relying on the voluntary
Railroad Bridges         cooperation of the railroads. A 1995 policy statement provides railroads
                         with advisory guidelines to use in implementing their own bridge
                         inspection programs. FRA expects its track inspectors to observe structural
                         problems on bridges as they perform their routine inspections and seek
                         cooperative resolutions with the railroad. FRA states that the railroads have
                         generally been responsive in taking corrective action in response to
                         inspectors’ observations. However, unlike safety problems with track,
                         signals, or equipment, where inspectors have the discretion to cite defects
                         or recommend violations, inspectors have no such discretion when dealing
                         with potentially serious bridge problems. Their only recourse is to
                         exercise emergency authority to close the bridge if conditions present an
                         imminent hazard of death or personal injury.8

                         FRA  was forced to take this action in February 1996 after a New York State
                         railroad inspector fell through a deteriorated bridge. The bridge was
                         owned by a small railroad that operated one locomotive over 1.5 miles of
                         track. FRA tried to reach a cooperative solution with the railroad’s owner
                         over a 6-week period, but the railroad did not cooperate. After a bridge
                         engineering consultant investigated the bridge and concluded that it was

                         8
                          As indicated in the 1995 policy statement, FRA maintains the authority to issue emergency,
                         compliance, and disqualification orders, as well as the authority to seek injunctive relief in federal
                         district court.



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              unsafe for the movement of the railroad’s 50-ton locomotive, FRA issued an
              emergency order to close the bridge. The emergency order continued to be
              in effect in May 1997.

              Although FRA has noted that some smaller railroads have not addressed all
              of their responsibilities for the safety of their bridges, FRA officials said
              that bridge regulations are not necessary. In 1995, FRA issued a report that
              concluded (1) bridges owned by the class I railroads were not in danger of
              collapse because they were designed and built to support steam
              locomotives that weigh more than modern locomotives, (2) over the past
              five decades no fatalities have resulted from railroad bridge failures,9
              (3) the great majority of railroad bridges are under effective management
              programs conducted by their owners, (4) FRA and industry bridge
              inspectors do not have the expertise needed to make a proper evaluation
              of the safety of most rail bridges, and (5) FRA can use emergency orders as
              an ultimate remedy for hazardous bridge conditions. FRA also noted that
              railroads have a considerable incentive, even without federal regulations,
              to maintain their bridges in a safe condition, since the loss of a bridge
              could not only cause human casualties but would also cause serious
              economic losses and operating problems for the railroads.

              FRA officials said that developing railroad bridge regulations will dilute the
              agency’s capacity to address issues that the agency believes are more
              important. While AAR agrees with FRA’s policy that regulations are not
              needed, railroad labor officials disagreed and noted that bridge safety is
              equally as important as track safety, for which FRA has promulgated
              regulations.


              FRA has always faced the challenge of determining how best to deploy its
Conclusions   limited resources to oversee the nation’s freight railroads. While field
              inspections and enforcement actions defined the agency’s approach in the
              past, the agency believes that the collaborative approaches it has pursued
              since 1993 will provide a more effective means to oversee an increasingly
              productive and growing industry. Railroad stakeholders have expressed
              initial support for FRA’s SACP process and are working to address systemic
              safety problems within the major railroads. On the other hand, efforts to
              develop freight power brake regulations through the Advisory Committee


              9
               Forty-seven fatalities did occur in a September 1993 accident when a barge tow struck a railroad
              bridge in Mobile, Alabama, just before an Amtrak passenger train arrived. In other instances, railroad
              bridges have been struck by motor vehicles or marine vessels, but, according to FRA, no human
              casualties resulted.



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                  have encountered problems in the negotiations between FRA and the
                  industry.

                  Similarly, it is unclear how the shift in FRA’s resources away from
                  site-specific inspections—the mainstay of FRA’s safety program for many
                  years—will affect rail safety. FRA’s field inspectors are conducting fewer
                  inspections as a result of their additional partnering responsibilities. These
                  site-specific inspections served an important oversight function and may
                  have contributed to the improvements in rail safety over the past 20 years.
                  FRA believes that inspectors’ time is well spent on the partnership efforts.
                  Since these efforts are still evolving, including the role of inspectors, it is
                  too early to assess if they will improve railroad safety over the long term.

                  FRA’s new approach has not yet systematically addressed concerns about
                  improving the workplace safety of railroad employees or ensuring that
                  railroad bridges receive inspection oversight comparable to other railroad
                  areas. FRA’s new injury reporting requirements and database could provide
                  the agency with the means to determine the causes of the most numerous
                  or serious injuries and illnesses. FRA and the industry could then work
                  together to develop corrective action. The cooperative arrangements
                  inherent in the SACP provide a vehicle for FRA, labor, and the railroads to
                  jointly seek solutions to workplace injury problems. If the injuries and
                  illnesses do not decrease as a result of these efforts, FRA could consider
                  addressing continuing workplace safety issues through regulations. The
                  SACP process could also provide FRA with the means to address bridge
                  safety problems before they become emergencies. By ensuring that bridge
                  safety problems that track inspectors find are included in the SACP, FRA
                  could quickly elevate the problems to senior railroad management for
                  resolution.


                  We recommend that the Secretary of Transportation direct the FRA
Recommendations   Administrator to, in cooperation with the industry, where appropriate,
                  (1) analyze injury data collected under the revised reporting requirements
                  to determine the workplace safety issues that lead to the most numerous
                  or the most serious injuries; (2) in areas where efforts to obtain voluntary
                  corrective action do not address the causes of these injuries, consider
                  developing regulations; and (3) use appropriate mechanisms, including the
                  Safety Assurance and Compliance Program, to ensure that a finding of
                  potential structural problems on a bridge is properly addressed by the
                  bridge owner.




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                  In commenting on a draft of this report, FRA officials said that it did not
Agency Comments   provide detailed information on the accomplishments the agency’s new
                  rail safety program had attained since it was initiated in 1993. The officials
                  cited improvements in key safety statistics since 1993 and safety
                  improvements in the operations of many larger railroads as examples of
                  how the agency’s new systemic approach has improved rail safety. For
                  example, railroad fatalities declined by 20 percent between 1993 and 1996
                  compared with a 1.4-percent decline between 1990 and 1993. In addition,
                  the officials said that limitations on its resources and expertise currently
                  constrain the agency’s ability to address the workplace safety and bridge
                  safety issues that we cited in the draft report. FRA said that these
                  limitations would affect its ability to continue its present activities,
                  adequately address new issues that will confront the agency, and address
                  concerns about improving workplace safety of railroad employees or
                  ensuring that railroad bridges receive oversight comparable to other
                  railroad areas. Finally, while agreeing with two of our three
                  recommendations, FRA officials commented on our recommendation that
                  the agency consider developing regulations to address the issues that
                  continue to cause the most numerous or serious workplace injuries. The
                  officials said that it would limit its consideration of regulations to those
                  areas that are related to train operations. FRA would have matters related
                  to non-train operations under OSHA’s purview.

                  In response to FRA’s comments, we included additional information on the
                  accomplishments the agency’s new rail safety program has achieved by
                  highlighting safety statistics for 1993 through 1996 and providing detailed
                  information on the successes with the SACP process. Specifically, we added
                  information on noticeable reductions in railroad fatalities and collisions
                  that occurred during this 3-year period. We also included in appendix IV,
                  FRA’s performance goals for improving rail safety in response to the
                  Government Performance and Results Act of 1993. FRA’s performance
                  goals and 3-year record show that safety has improved since 1993.
                  However, reaching conclusions on FRA’s new safety program by isolating
                  safety improvements over the most recent 3-year period ignores past
                  trends in railroad safety. The past 20 years shows that periods of
                  noteworthy reductions in railroad accidents, fatalities, and injuries were
                  often followed by periods in which railroad safety worsened. As we
                  concluded, it is too early to tell if FRA’s efforts will sustain improvements
                  in railroad safety over an extended time. Finally, we disagree with FRA’s
                  contention that any workplace safety regulations that it may consider
                  issuing should be limited to train-related operations only. In assessing the
                  more detailed workplace safety information that the agency began



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collecting in January 1997, FRA may find a preponderance of
non-train-related injuries that warrant the agency’s and industry’s
attention. Accordingly, FRA should not foreclose the need to at least
consider regulations that may cover serious injuries that occur away from
train operations.

FRAhad additional comments that we incorporated throughout the report,
where appropriate.




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Page 61   GAO/RCED-97-142 Rail Transportation
Appendix I

Methodology Used to Analyze Data From
the Federal Railroad Administration’s
Railroad Inspection Reporting System
                            To analyze the impact of the Federal Railroad Administration’s new
                            approach on field inspections, we obtained data from the agency’s
                            Railroad Inspection Reporting System. The system contains all records for
                            calendar years 1992 through 1994 for inspections of motive power and
                            equipment, operations and hazardous materials, signal and train control,
                            and track. For calendar year 1995, we obtained data from FRA’s current
                            database which combines all of these disciplines into one file. These data
                            included information such as the railroad inspected, geographic region,
                            inspection discipline, defects, and violations recommended. We worked
                            closely with agency officials to develop a list of subsidiary railroads to
                            combine with parent railroads for each year represented in our data, as
                            well as to develop a coding structure designating railroads as class I, group
                            II, or all others. We also worked closely with agency officials to ensure
                            that we were counting the numbers of inspections, records inspections,
                            defects, and recommended violations consistently with FRA’s methods of
                            generating statistics describing such activities.

                            To determine railroads that had not received inspections, we generated a
                            list of railroads from FRA’s Operations and Casualty databases for each
                            calendar year 1992 through 1995. We compared this list to the railroads
                            (with subsidiaries combined with parents) from the inspections data we
                            received from FRA. We focused on railroads that received no inspection in
                            any of the five inspection disciplines or that received inspections in only
                            one or two of the five inspection disciplines.


Reliability Assessment of   We reported the results of our limited reliability assessment of the
FRA’s Inspection Data       Railroad Inspection Reporting System as required by the government
                            auditing standards in 1990.1




                            1
                             Railroad Safety: New Approach Needed for Effective FRA Safety Inspection Program
                            (GAO/RCED-90-194, July 31, 1990).



                            Page 62                                                 GAO/RCED-97-142 Rail Transportation
Appendix II

Safety Assurance and Compliance Program’s
Senior Management Meetings

Table II.1: Fiscal Year 1995 Meetings
                                        Railroad                                     Date of meeting
                                        Chicago and Northwestern                     October 25, 1994
                                        Southern Pacific                             February 15, 1995
                                        Iowa Interstate                              April 26, 1995
                                        Conrail                                      May 26, 1995
                                        Kansas City Southern                         July 12, 1995
                                        Florida East Coast                           July 18, 1995
                                        Tri-Rail                                     July 19, 1995
                                        Union Pacific                                August 23, 1995

                                        Source: FRA.


Table II.2: Fiscal Year 1996 Meetings
                                        Railroad                                     Date of meeting
                                        Montana Rail Link                            October 11, 1995
                                        CSX Transportation                           October 31, 1995
                                        Dakota, Minnesota, & Eastern                 January 25, 1996
                                        Gateway Western                              January 31, 1996
                                        Metra (Chicago)                              February 22, 1996
                                        Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation     March 8, 1996
                                        Authority (SEPTA)
                                        Wisconsin Central                            March 29, 1996
                                        Long Island                                  April 3, 1996
                                        Springfield Terminal                         April 16, 1996
                                        Belt Railway of Chicago                      May 28, 1996
                                        Norfolk Southern                             June 20, 1996
                                        Alaska                                       July 16, 1996
                                        New Jersey Transit                           July 18, 1996
                                        Rail Tex (Central Oregon and Pacific)        August 6, 1996
                                        Elgin, Joliet & Eastern                      August 20, 1996
                                        Metro North                                  August 27, 1996
                                        Burlington Northern Santa Fe                 August 30, 1996
                                        Duluth Missabe and Iron Range                September 23, 1996
                                        Canadian National (Grand Trunk Western       September 24, 1996
                                        /Duluth, Winnipeg, and Pacific)
                                        Illinois Central (Chicago Central and Pacific) September 26, 1996

                                        Source: FRA.




                                        Page 63                                            GAO/RCED-97-142 Rail Transportation
                                        Appendix II
                                        Safety Assurance and Compliance
                                        Program’s Senior Management Meetings




Table II.3: Fiscal Year 1997 Meetings
                                        Railroad                                Date of meeting
                                        Metro Link (SCRRRA)                     October 17, 1996
                                        Indiana Harbor Belt                     November 12, 1996
                                        Canadian Pacific                        December 12, 1996
                                        Amtrak                                  December 4, 1996
                                        Texas Mexican                           To be determined
                                        Farmrail/Grainbelt                      To be determined
                                        Texas, Oklahoma & Eastern/DeQueen &     To be determined
                                        Eastern
                                        North American Rail Net                 February 1997
                                        I&M Rail Link                           March 1997
                                        Wisconsin Southern                      March 1997
                                        Toledo, Peoria, and Western             April 1997
                                        Northern Indiana Commuter               April 1997
                                        Escanaba and Lake Superior              May 1997
                                        Dakota, Missouri Valley, and Western    June 1997
                                        Central Railroad of Michigan            June 1997
                                        Carolina Southern                       July 1997
                                        Arizona and California                  July 1997
                                        Blue Mountain Reading and Northern      July 1997
                                        Ann Arbor                               July 1997
                                        Kyle Railroad                           To be determined
                                        Wheeling and Lake Erie                  August 1997
                                        Amtrak Capital Corridor                 August 1997
                                        Indianapolis and Louisville             August 1997
                                        North Shore Group                       September 1997
                                        Red River Valley and Western Railroad   September 1997

                                        Source: FRA.




                                        Page 64                                      GAO/RCED-97-142 Rail Transportation
Appendix III

FRA’s Rulemaking Actions



                                          Source of decision to      Legal
Stage           Title                     regulate                   deadline                     Other
Prerule         Hours of Service          Reinventing government     None
                Electronic                effort
                Recordkeeping Project
Proposed rule   Track Motor Vehicle and   Petition to develop a rule None                         Tasked to the Railroad
                Roadway Equipment                                                                 Safety Advisory
                Safety                                                                            Committee (RSAC) on
                                                                                                  10/31/96
Proposed rule   Locomotive                Rail Safety Enforcement    Final rule or report, 3/3/95 Tasked to RSAC on
                Crashworthiness and       and Review Act –9/3/92                                  10/31/96a
                Working Conditions
Proposed rule   Florida Overland        FRA                          None
                Express High Speed Rail
                Rule of Particular
                Applicability
Proposed rule   Passenger Equipment       Federal Railroad Safety   Initial regulations,
                Safety Standards          Authorization Act of 1994 11/2/97;
                                          –11/2/94                  final, 11/2/99
Proposed rule   Whistle-Bans at           Title III, Public Law      Final, 11/2/96
                Highway-Rail Grade        103-440
                Crossings
Proposed rule   Qualification and         Petitions to reconsider    None                         Tasked to RSAC on
                Certification of          aspects of an existing                                  10/31/96
                Locomotive Engineers      rule
Proposed rule   Track Safety Standards    Rail Safety Enforcement    Final, 9/1/95                Tasked to RSAC on
                                          and Review Act –9/3/92                                  4/1/96b
Proposed rule   Environmental Impact      FRA, FTA, and FHWA        None
                and Related Procedures    revisions to
                                          environmental regulations
Proposed rule   Reinvention of Steam      Reinventing government     None                         Tasked to RSAC on
                Locomotive Inspection     effort                                                  7/24/96
                Regulations
Proposed rule   Radio Communication-      Rail Safety Enforcement    None                         Tasked to RSAC on
                Advanced Train Control    and Review Act-9/3/92c                                  4/1/96d
                System
Proposed rule   Freight Power Brakes      Rail Safety Enforcement    Final, 12/31/93              Tasked to RSAC on
                                          and Review Act-9/3/92                                   4/1/96e
Final rule      Rail Passenger Service:   Federal Railroad Safety   Initial regulations,
                Emergency                 Authorization Act of 1994 11/2/97;
                Preparedness              –11/2/94                  final, 11/2/99
Final rulef     Statement of Policy       FRA                        None
                Regarding Safety of
                Railroad Bridges
Final rule      Use of Remotely           FRA                        None
                Controlled Locomotives
                in Rail Operations
                                                                                                               (continued)



                               Page 65                                                 GAO/RCED-97-142 Rail Transportation
                                             Appendix III
                                             FRA’s Rulemaking Actions




                                                        Source of decision to     Legal
Stage                        Title                      regulate                  deadline                     Other
Final rule                   Use of One-Person          FRA                       None
                             Crews in Railroad
                             Operations
Final rule                   Alcohol/Drug            Reinventing government       None
                             Regulations;            effort
                             Miscellaneous Technical
                             Amendments and
                             Corrections
Final rule                   Local Rail Freight         FRA                       None
                             Assistance to States
Final rule                   Freight Car Safety         Reinventing government    None
                             Standards:                 effort
                             Maintenance-of-Way
                             Equipment
Final ruleg                  Reinvention of             Reinventing government    None
                             Regulations Addressing     effort
                             Discontinuance or
                             Modification of Signal
                             Systems
Final ruleh                  Reinvention of Signal      Reinventing government    None
                             System Reporting           effort
                             Requirements
Final rulei                  Maintenance, Inspection,   Reinventing government None
                             and Testing of             effort; petitions to
                             Grade-Crossing Signal      reconsider aspects of an
                             Systems                    existing rule
Rule published on 6/18/96j   Railroad Accident          Reinventing government    None
                             Reporting                  effort
Rule published on 7/25/96    FRA Hazardous              Senate Report 103-150,    Final, 5/1/95k
                             Materials Penalty          Public Law 103-122
                             Guidelines
Rule published on 12/16/96   Roadway Worker             Rail Safety Enforcement   Final, 9/1/95
                             Protection                 and Review Act –9/3/92
Rule published on 1/2/97     Power Brake                Rail Safety Enforcement   Final, 12/31/93
                             Regulations: Two Way       and Review Act –9/3/92
                             End of Train Telemetry
                             Devices
Long term                    Reinvention of             Reinventing government    None
                             Regulations Addressing     effort
                             Railroad User Fees
Long term                    Small Railroads; Policy    Small Business            3/29/97
                             Statement on               Regulatory Enforcement
                             Enforcement Program        Fairness Act of 1996 -
                                                        3/29/96
Long term                    Tourist and Historic       FRA, Regulatory           None
                             Working Group              Flexibility Actl
                             Regulatory Review
                             (Section 610 Review)
                                                                                                                            (continued)


                                             Page 66                                                GAO/RCED-97-142 Rail Transportation
                              Appendix III
                              FRA’s Rulemaking Actions




                                             Source of decision to         Legal
Stage       Title                            regulate                      deadline                   Other
Long term   Amtrak Waste Disposal            The National and              None
                                             Community Service Act
                                             of 1990 - 11/16/90
Long term   Protection of Utility            Petitions to reconsider       None
            Employees                        aspects of an existing
                                             rule
Long term   Selection and Installation FRA                                 None
            of Grade Crossing
            Warning Systems

                              Note: Rules currently pending for which action was completed in the last 12 months.


                              a
                               The Rail Safety Enforcement and Review Act required FRA to complete a rulemaking proceeding
                              to consider prescribing regulations in this area within 30 months of enactment. The act required
                              FRA to report to the Congress if it decided, based on the rulemaking proceeding, not to prescribe
                              regulations. FRA reported the results of its investigation to the Congress in September 1996 and
                              subsequently referred the matter to the RSAC.
                              b
                               The RSAC voted to recommend a proposal to the FRA Administrator in November 1996. FRA
                              published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on July 3, 1997.
                              c
                               The Rail Safety Enforcement and Review Act required a safety inquiry regarding railroad radio
                              standards and procedures, and FRA committed to revise its rules based on this study.
                              d
                               The RSAC voted to recommend a proposal to the FRA Administrator in April 1997. FRA
                              published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on June 26, 1997.
                              e
                               Proposals for passenger brake revisions are also being developed with the assistance of a
                              passenger equipment standards working group.
                              f
                                  FRA published an Interim Statement of Policy on April 27, 1995.
                              g
                                  FRA published an Interim Final Rule on July 1, 1996.
                              h
                                  FRA published an Interim Final Rule on July 1, 1996.
                              i
                               FRA published a Final Rule on September 30, 1994, requiring that railroads take actions to
                              protect the travelling public and railroad employees from the hazards posed by malfunctioning
                              highway-rail grade crossing warning systems, and that railroads follow specific standards for
                              maintaining, inspecting, and testing those systems. This rule was effective on January 1, 1995.
                              FRA is making technical changes and minor amendments to this final rule. FRA published an
                              Interim Final Rule on June 20, 1996.
                              j
                               On June 18, November 22, and November 29, 1996, FRA published final rules amending the
                              railroad accident reporting regulations. On December 23, 1996, FRA responded to remaining
                              issues raised in petitions for reconsideration, issued amendments addressing some of those
                              concerns, and made some technical minor amendments.
                              k
                               As stated in the report of the Senate Appropriations Committee on the Department of
                              Transportation’s Fiscal Year 1994 appropriations.




                              Page 67                                                      GAO/RCED-97-142 Rail Transportation
Appendix III
FRA’s Rulemaking Actions




l
Under the Regulatory Flexibility Act, agencies periodically review existing and proposed
regulations that have or will have a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small
entities. The RSAC’s Tourist and Historic Working Group will review existing and proposed
regulations for their appropriate applicability to tourist and historic railroads.


Source: Semiannual Regulatory Agenda (Apr. 25, 1997) and FRA.




Page 68                                                    GAO/RCED-97-142 Rail Transportation
Appendix IV

Key Safety Statistics, Calendar Years 1993
Through 1996, and FRA’s Performance Goals


                                                                                    Comparison
              Performance                                   Reduction               of 1996 with
              measure                       1993    1996a    (percent)    1998 goal    1998 goal
              Rail-related                  1,279   1,023          20         1,151          –128
              fatalities
              Train accidents               2,785   2,511          9.8        2,414           +97
              Rail                           617     437          29.2          423           +14
              passenger
              fatalities/
              injuries
              Rail employee            15,762       8,949         43.2       11,645        –2,696
              fatalities/
              injuries
              Grade                         4,892   4,159         15.0        4,377          –218
              crossing
              accidents
              Trespasser                     523     472           9.8          494           –22
              fatalities
              Hazardous                     1,154   1,087          5.8        1,110           –23
              materials
              releases
              a
               1996 data are preliminary.



              Source: FRA.




              Page 69                                          GAO/RCED-97-142 Rail Transportation
Appendix V

Major Contributors to This Report


                       Joseph A. Christoff, (312) 220-7703
Resources,             Stephen M. Cleary
Community, and         Helen T. Desaulniers
Economic               Sharon E. Dyer
                       Bonnie Pignatiello Leer
Development Division   Edmond E. Menoche
                       Judy K. Pagano
                       Phyllis F. Scheinberg




(343880)               Page 70                               GAO/RCED-97-142 Rail Transportation
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