Railroads receive few federal inspections, report finds

Dec 12, 2013

A report by the Government Accountability Office finds that the Federal Railroad Administration is only able to inspect about one percent of railroad activities for compliance with safety rules.

Report author Susan Fleming says the agency doesn’t have the personnel to do more, so they focus enforcement in areas that they determine to be high-risk – for example, places where there have been accidents in the past. But she says the system is not perfect.

“There are some emerging challenges that are taking place, having to do with the increase in volume in traffic that’s happening, largely because of the transportation of crude oil and shale,” Fleming said “The models aren’t nimble enough … to deal with some of these emerging challenges.”

More and more oil is being transported by rail, rather than pipeline, and Fleming says that’s raised new concerns for communities near railroad lines. The GAO is working on another study focused specifically on the safety of transporting oil by rail.