WASHINGTON — The chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and the chair of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials Donald M. Payne Jr. (D-NJ) are requesting the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) examine the impacts that the implementation of precision scheduled railroading (PSR) by Class I railroads are having on workers, safety, freight shippers, passenger railroads and long-term management of the nation’s railroads.
“PSR in practice means the bottom line drives the decisions,” said Chair DeFazio. “Longer trains, unhappy shippers and a workforce pushed to do more with less is not a model to chase after – unless you’re on Wall Street. But we can’t let hedge fund managers write the rules of railroading. Last Congress, my Committee heard from various stakeholders concerned for the immediate and long-term impacts of PSR. This study, passed by the House last year in my surface transportation reauthorization bill, the INVEST in America Act, will help us find ways to address the impacts this railroad management strategy has on workers, freight shippers, passenger railroads and rail safety.”
“Precision scheduled railroading is being used more and more throughout the rail industry,” said Rep. Donald M. Payne Jr. “But I am concerned that this strategy could come at the expense of worker safety and smart, long-term railroad management. We need more information about this practice to determine whether it is beneficial or harmful to our nation’s railroad system.”
The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has found that the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has not addressed three congressional requirements for their grants programs contained in the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) and the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act).
According to the GAO, the FTA has not:
issued regulations regarding the evaluation and rating process for Core Capacity Improvement projects, which are a category of eligible projects within the program;
established a program of interrelated projects designed to allow for the simultaneous development of more than one transit project within the Capital Investment Grants program; or
implemented a pilot program designed to create a fast-track approval process for transit projects that meet specific statutory criteria.
During the review, FTA told GAO that they do not have any immediate plans to address any of the three statutory provisions. The FTA cited an earlier budget proposal by President Trump to eliminate the Capital Investment Grant program, however, Congress provided the program with $2.6 billion in funding since that proposal and required FTA to continue to administer the program in doing so.
The GAO left the FTA with three recommendations for Executive Action:
The FTA administrator should initiate a rulemaking regarding the evaluation and rating process for Core Capacity Improvement projects, consistent with statutory provisions.
The FTA administrator should take steps, such as undertaking additional research or public outreach, to enable FTA to evaluate and rate projects in a program of interrelated projects, in a manner consistent with statutory provisions; and
The FTA administrator should take steps to describe the process project sponsors should follow to apply for consideration as a pilot project under the Expedited Project Delivery for Capital Investment Grants Pilot Program.
FTA stated to the GAO that it is reviewing the law and determining their next steps but did not indicate any specific plans or timeframes for addressing the three outstanding provisions. In their report, the GAO warned the FTA that “by not addressing those provisions, FTA runs the risk of failing to implement provisions of federal law.”
After derailments, blocked crossings and other complications, two members of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure have asked for the federal Government Accountability Office to study the effects of longer freight trains.
In the letter dated Nov. 7, ranking members Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., and Michael E. Capuano, D-Mass., made the request after referencing the derailment Aug. 2 of a CSX train in Hyndman, Pa.
The derailment of 32 cars from the train that consisted of five locomotives and 178 rail cars caused the evacuation of about 1,000 town residents and destroyed a house. The representatives noted in their letter that the average freight train consists of about 70 cars.
“Recent press reports indicate that some railroads are now operating trains with close to 200 or more cars that are more than two miles long,” they wrote. “We have concerns that longer trains can create unusually long delays at grade crossings and may pose safety risks to train crews and the public.”
DeFazio, a ranking member on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and Capuano, a ranking member on the Railroad Subcommittee, also mentioned operational challenges for rail workers, such as possible loss of radio contact, or service delays as a direct result of the longer trains.
“We appreciate that these congressional leaders have asked for a review of these dangerously long trains.” SMART-TD President John Previsich. “This issue was also addressed by John Risch, our national legislative director, at a recent STB hearing.”
Risch appeared Oct. 11 in Washington D.C. before the Surface Transportation Board at a listening session focused on problems with CSX’s service.
DeFazio and Capuano’s letter asks the GAO to look into various aspects of longer trains from the perspective of rail worker and public safety and also to examine the levels of oversight available on the federal, state and local levels to remedy safety concerns posed by longer trains.
Railroad accidents pose significant safety risks to railroads, their employees, passengers, and the public.
FRA oversees safety of the nation’s railroads. In light of three high profile accidents in 2012 involving fatalities or hazardous materials, GAO was asked to review FRA’s oversight processes and the challenges to railroad safety.
This report examines (1) the overall framework that FRA, the states, and the railroads use to ensure rail safety; (2) the extent to which FRA and the railroads assess safety risks and allocate resources to address those risks; and (3) what challenges, if any, exist to FRA’s current safety framework, and what ongoing and emerging issues FRA faces.
GAO analyzed FRA accident and incident data, reviewed the analytical models FRA uses to incorporate risk into its inspection program, and interviewed FRA headquarters and field safety staff, officials from the seven largest freight railroads and 11 smaller railroads, industry associations and seven rail labor organizations.