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Three senators ask GAO to review rail safety

U.S. Sens. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), John “Jay” Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) recently sent a joint letter to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) requesting a review of rail safety and a determination as to how the Federal Railroad Administration, state rail safety agencies and other stakeholders cooperate to ensure rail safety.

Despite legislative action in 2008 to improve rail safety, several recent “high-profile accidents” serve as “stark reminders that railroad safety continues to be a concern,” they wrote in the letter.

“Our railways strengthen the economy by moving goods and people across the country, and we cannot overlook the critical role that safety plays in keeping our rail system moving,” wrote Lautenberg, who chairs the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Surface Transportation.

By and large, the nation’s rail system is safe, but the “system can still be deadly when things go wrong,” wrote Rockefeller, who chairs the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

“We need a thorough review to identify gaps that may exist in our safety programs and policy and to reduce the risk of accidents,” he wrote.

The GAO review should identify how railroads ensure the safety of their own operations and infrastructure, and the role of the federal government in ensuring rail safety and in meeting requirements of the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008. In addition, the review would be “particularly useful” if it cited how rail safety risk factors are determined, how the factors are used to allocate inspection and other safety resources — especially when new risk factors, such as heat waves, emerge across the rail network — and what improvements in inspections or risk models could be made to increase safety, the senators wrote.

“An investigation … will help us better oversee rail safety and help identify any gaps in our nation’s large and growing rail system,” wrote Durbin.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 8/31/2012