Posts Tagged ‘Government Accountability Office’

House Committee Seeks Probe of PSR

May 17, 2021

The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure is seeking an investigation of the practice of precision scheduled railroading.

It has asked the U.S. Government Accountability Office to conduct the probe with a focus on how the practice has affected shippers, Amtrak, commuter railroads, employees and others.

A letter from committee chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon) and Donald Payne Jr. (D-New Jersey), chairman of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials, asked Comptroller General Gene Dodaro to, “at a minimum,” investigate 10 aspects of the impact of PSR.

“These include the safety and service impacts of longer trains, and of reduced workforces; elimination or downsizing of yards and maintenance facilities; changes in dispatching practices; on-time performance of passenger trains; quality, availability and reliability of service to shippers; and increases in demurrage or other charges.”

The letter noted that longer trains, unhappy shippers, and a workforce pushed to do more with less is not a model to emulate “unless you’re on Wall Street.”

“But we can’t let hedge fund managers write the rules of railroading,” DeFazio said in a statement.

GAO Says RRs Optimistic About Meeting PTC Deadline

May 5, 2020

Although most railroads are optimistic about implementing positive train control systems by the end of this year, the U.S. Government Accountability Office recently said railroads face tight schedules to get the work done.

GAO said that as of Dec. 31, 2019, 17 of the 31 railroads required to have an interoperable PTC system, meaning it can be used by all tenant railroads on its tracks, had achieved that milestone.

In total 42 railroads must have PTC fully implemented by Dec. 31 of this year.

That means having a PTC system in place that has been certified by the Federal Railroad Administration.

GAO said at the end of 2019 more than three-quarters of the railroads were conducting advanced testing or had implemented PTC on their own tracks, but had work left to reach full implementation.

In previous reports, GAO said software and vendor issues have hindered PTC implementation.

The most recent GAO report said those issues have grown more acute as many railroads face compressed schedules to meet the Dec. 31, 2020, deadline.

Railroads will need to complete some tasks tasks in a shorter time than originally planned due to software issues or other unique circumstances.

GAO said the COVID-19 pandemic create risks that could affect some railroads’ ability to meet the deadline.

The report said the FRA, vendors and railroads are taking steps to mitigate those risks.

FRA officials have worked with railroads to identify solutions to technical problems and have provided resources to regions identified as needing additional implementation assistance.

The GAO report quoted FRA officials as saying they are “closely monitoring” the effect of the pandemic on PTC implementation.

Nonetheless, GAO said it was told by the FRA, vendors and railroads that they are optimistic that they’ll overcome these challenges and achieve full PTC implementation on schedule.

Four railroads reported considering contingency plans if they, or their tenants, cannot meet the deadline, GAO officials said.

GAO Report Cites PTC Interoperability Issues

August 6, 2019

A Government Accountability Office report concludes that although Amtrak, commuter and freight railroads are making progress in implementing positive train control systems, significant work remains to be done to achieve interoperability among the railroad’ individual PTC systems.

The report said that as of March 31, 11 of the 31 host railroads that must have interoperable PTC systems reported that they had achieved interoperability with at least one of their tenant railroads.

Thirty-eight of the 227 host-tenant relationships that require interoperability have been completed (17 percent), the Federal Railroad Administration told the GAO.

The GAO said most railroads said that vendor and software issues were “major” or “moderate” challenges for PTC implementation.

More than half of the railroads said interoperability was a “major” or “moderate challenge,” and can be complicated by software issues and coordinating host and tenant schedules

As an example of those issues, the report said one railroad reported that certain software functionality still had to be developed, tested and implemented to address reliability issues and facilitate interoperability.

The FRA concurred with a GAO recommendation that the FRA take steps to communicate information to railroads and use a risk-based approach to ranks priorities of agency resources and workload.

Passenger Lags Freight on PTC Installation

October 8, 2018

A Government Accountability Office report found that many passenger railroads are close to completing equipment installation of positive train control systems but are lagging the rate of progress of freight railroads in testing those systems.

Of the 28 commuter railroads required to implement PTC, 19 have initiated field testing but just eight have started revenue-service demonstration.

Two-thirds of passenger railroads are more than 90 percent complete with equipment installation.

The testing involves several field tests of individual components, such as of each locomotive to verify if it meets functional requirements and field-integration.

Revenue service demonstrations are an advanced form of field testing in which a railroad operates PTC-equipped trains in regular service under specific conditions.

The GAO said Amtrak and 21 commuter railroads expect to seek an extension to the Dec. 31 federally mandated deadline for PTC implementation.

More than half of those railroads plan to apply to the Federal Railroad Administration for an extension using substitute criteria that is specified in federal law.

GAO Wants Changes to FTA Safety Oversight

April 11, 2018

A U.S. Government Accountability Office report has found strengths and limitations in Federal Transit and Federal Railroad Administration rail safety oversight programs, but was particularly critical of the FTA.

The GAO noted that the FTA has not provided states with the guidance needed to ensure that they develop appropriate and effective transit-rail safety inspection programs of their own.

“In particular, FTA has not provided states with guidance on how to develop and implement risk-based inspection programs,” GAO officials wrote in the report. “Though FTA has said that it will develop such guidance, it does not have a plan or timeline to do so.”

The report said that the FTA has failed to develop a process or methodology to evaluate whether state safety agency enforcement authorities and practices are effective and that without clear evidence that state safety agencies’ enforcement is effective, states and the FTA may not be able to compel passenger-rail operators to fix safety issues.

GAO recommended the FTA create a plan and timeline for developing risk-based inspection guidance for state safety agencies.

It also recommended the FTA develop and communicate a method for how it will monitor whether state safety agencies’ enforcement practices are effective.

As for the FRA, the GOA suggested that it continue to use and update a risk-based model to guide inspections.

The U.S. Department of Transportation, which oversees the FTA and FRA, agreed with the recommendations.

GAO Reports Says 7 to 19 Commuter Railroads Won’t Meet PTC Deadline, Qualify for Waiver

March 1, 2018

Two-thirds of U.S. commuter railroads are likely to miss the Dec. 31 deadline to install positive train control, the Government Accountability Office said in a report released on Wednesday.

The GAO report said under the current law those transit agencies may not be eligible for a deadline extension, either.

Seven to 19 U.S. commuter railroads have not given their workers enough time to complete six milestones required by the Federal Railroad Administration to qualify for waivers for full positive train control operation.

That waiver allows a railroad that is required to have PTC in place by Dec. 31 to get an extension of up to Dec. 31, 2020. The six milestones are:

•Installing all necessary PTC system hardware.
•Acquiring all necessary radio spectrum.
•Completing the required employee training.
•Submitting to the FRA an alternate implementation schedule.
•Certifying that a railroad will comply with the law according to the alternative schedule.
•Operating a revenue service demonstration on at least one territory where PTC will be required.

The latter requirement is causing the biggest problems for commuter railroads, the GAO report said, because it can take one to three years from the beginning of field tests, during which trains are not relying on PTC systems, but are connected to the systems, to the start of revenue demonstrations.

Seven commuter railroads can’t begin testing until June, which leaves them at risk of failing to qualify for a waiver.

The report does not name the railroads that are likely to miss the PTC deadline.

As for why the railroads are struggling to comply with the law, the GAO report cited a variety of factors, including a lack of expertise, scheduling difficulties, lack of coordination between host railroads (often Class I freight railroads) and commuter lines, as well as FRA’s capacity to handle the work load.

The GAO recommended that the FRA create a standard way to send information to railroads on deadline extension criteria and processes.

It also suggested that the FRA set up a priority system for how it will allocate personnel and resources to process an expected increase in paperwork that railroads submit, as well as assist those railroads that need technical assistance.

Thus far, the FRA has been releasing information in informal ways, including presentations at industry conferences and webinars, rather than through formal, published documents.

The GAO found that the FRA has only 12 staffers who have the skills needed to review the PTC paperwork submitted by the railroads.

An FRA spokesperson told Trains magazine that it plans to hold meeting with executives of all 41 railroads required to have PTC installed this year to assess their challenges and implementation plans.

Information gleaned from those meetings will be used to conduct oversight of railroads’ PTC activities.

3 Federal Agencies Examining Train Length

December 13, 2017

Three federal agencies are reported to be looking into the longer trains that Class 1 railroads have been running of late.

The probes are occurring despite a lack of federal regulations of train length.

The Government Accountability Office is looking into whether increased train length is a safety risk.

That review was prompted by derailments that occurred this year in Pennsylvania and Florida on CSX. In both cases, hazardous materials were involved.

The derailments came as CSX has increased its average train length by 400 feet to 6,833 feet this year. Like other Class 1 railroads, CSX sees longer train lengths as a way to reduce costs.

The Federal Railroad Administration and the Surface Transportation Board are conducting independent investigations of the safety of longer trains.

FRA inspectors have reportedly been spending more time on CSX property in recent weeks due to a spike in incidents.

If the investigations lead to proposals to regulate train length, it is likely that the railroads and their trade association, the Association of American Railroads, will resist those efforts, arguing they would increase operating costs.

GAO Wants Better FRA Oversight of Car Order

June 4, 2016

The U.S. Government Accountability Office is recommending that the Federal Railroad Administration improve its oversight of the stalled project to build new passenger cars for Midwest and West Coast corridor passenger trains.

The agency issued its report in the wake of funding uncertainty for a 172-car order placed with Nippon Sharyo.

FRAMost of those cars – 130 – are being funded by a $551 million grant from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

But that grant will expire on Sept. 17, 2017, if it is not spent by then.

The rest of the passenger cars are being funded by California Department of Transportation and are not subject to the same federal grant.

Production of the cars was halted after a prototype shell failed a compression test last August at the Nippon Sharyo factory in Rochelle, Illinois.

Engineers and designers have sought to find a solution to the problem but thus far have not come up with one.

The GAO said the FRA could be more effective in managing grant money by requiring “timely and actionable information on grantee performance” in its review process, giving grant recipients more specific guidance for tracking information such as deliverables and project milestones, and by formalizing a training plan for grantees and agency staff.

“Prior to 2009, FRA had a very limited grant portfolio, receiving appropriations for approximately $30 million in grant funding in fiscal year 2008, for example,” the report said. “With expanded responsibilities, the agency had to quickly award approximately $8 billion in Recovery Act funds while simultaneously developing policies and procedures for grants management.”

The U.S. Department of Transportation said it concurs with the report’s findings and will report within 60 days its plans to implement the recommendations.

GAO Backs Extension of PTC Deadline

September 17, 2015

The campaign to extend the deadline for implementation of positive train control on U.S. railroads got a boost from a report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office that concluded that most railroads will not be able to meet the Dec. 31 deadline.

The GAO said freight and commuter railroads face significant challenges in implementing PTC with most needing one to five years to finish implementation.

The report was critical of the Federal Railroad Administration, which the GAO said has provided insufficient oversight to monitor individual railroads’ progress.

The GAO is recommending that the FRA improve its oversight by developing a plan to hold railroads accountable for making progress on PTC.

Senate and House committee leaders, including House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pennsylvania) and Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee Chairman John Thune (R-South Dakota), requested the GAO report.

“This GAO report confirms that the PTC mandate is not achievable, and extending the deadline is essential to preventing significant disruptions of both passenger and freight rail service across the country,” Shuster said. “I am committed to working with Senator Thune and our colleagues to address the clear need for an extension, and to ensuring that railroads implement this important but complicated safety technology in a responsible manner.”

Thune said that passenger and freight railroads will need additional time to finish implementation of PTC systems.

“Failure to extend this legal deadline would create significant hardships for customers and passengers who rely on railroads,” Thune said. “Passing an extension that includes meaningful accountability for PTC implementation is the best thing Congress can do to enhance safety and avert a chaotic situation that would hurt our economy much more than the recent West Coast ports backup.”

The PTC mandate was conained in 2008 railroad safety legislation and requires PTC on railroad lines that carry passengers and/or hazardous cargo.

According to the GAO report, railroads have faced numerous challenges in meeting the deadline including:

  • The need to design, produce and install over 20 new major components.
  • A limited number of manufacturers for those components.
  • Multiple phases of testing and system integration necessary to ensure safety.
  • Attempting to meet the current deadline before defects are identified and addressed.
  • Difficulty in obtaining radio spectrum and Federal Communication Commission permits for communications infrastructure.
  • Delays in approval of safety plans by regulators.
  • The complex challenge of achieving interoperability among varying types of PTC systems. Even railroads that will be able to install PTC on their own tracks by Dec. 31 face interoperability issues with other railroads.

The Senate backed an extension of the PTC deadline in legislation that it passed earlier this year. The Obama Administration also is supporting an extension of the PTC deadline.

Association of American Railroads President and CEO Edward R. Hamberger said the GAO report confirms that the PTC deadline needs to be extended.

“The GAO report reinforces the freight rail industry’s contention that PTC is an extremely complex technology that requires more time to install and safely test,” Hamberger said. “Freight rail operators have always contended that the Congressionally mandated 2015 deadline for having PTC fully functional and being used coast to coast by passenger and freight rail alike was not realistic.

“But the fact that can’t be ignored is that time is quickly running out for taking action to extend the deadline and avoid the dire consequences of not doing so. American businesses that use rail to move their goods and people that depend on rail to travel and get to work every day need to know they can count on Congress to do the right thing.”

The AAR has notified more than 40 U.S. trade associations representing myriad industries that depend on rail transportation of the potential for service shutdowns and major disruptions should Congress fail to extend the deadline by the end of October.

“Railroads are beginning to notify their customers of the possibility of an impending rail shutdown as they, too, have to prepare for such a worst-case scenario,” Hamberger said. “Congress can’t wait until November or December when the clock is about to run out. If lawmakers want to avert a massive disruption of passenger and freight transport this fall, which will inflict significant hardships on businesses and passengers alike, it must take action now to extend the deadline.”

PTC systems are needed on approximately 60,000 railroad route miles. The AAR recently told the FRA that by the end of 2015, the status of PTC installation will be as follows:

  • More than 14 percent of the 60,000 route miles will have PTC.
  • Thirty-one percent of locomotives will be PTC equipped.
  • Sixty-nine percent of wayside units and 63 percent of base station radios will have been installed.
  • One-third of 114,515 railroad employees will be PTC trained.