The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) will receive $185 million to hire an additional 45 railroad inspectors as part of the omnibus spending bill now before Congress.
In December, U.S. Sens. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said the FRA was “woefully under funded and unable to fully evaluate exiting and future rail-safety programs across the nation’s freight and passenger railroads.” The senators pushed for inclusion of the funds saying the FRA “lacks the resources to inspect 99 percent of the nation’s rails and to sufficiently prepare for the oversight of new safety measures.”
The funding amount represents a $15 million increase over 2013’s sequestered budget and is the full amount requested by the Obama administration for Fiscal Year 2014.
“This is a vitally important increase in urgently-needed inspectors, who will make railroad travel safer now and in the future,” the senators said in a released statement.
The funds will allow the inspectors to inspect far more track and begin sending safety “strike teams” to railroads around the nation in order to conduct additional safety audits. The senators noted that FRA does not seek to inspect 100 percent of the nation’s rails each year, a task that is shared by states and the railroads themselves, but additional funding would allow them to dramatically increase the percentage and spot safety checks.
“Having additional inspectors for our nation’s rails will prevent future accidents and make the riding public safer, plain and simple,” said Schumer. “We’ve been under investing in our rail safety agency for too long, but with this major funding boost, we’re well on the way to fixing this problem.”
“These funds are a solid step toward fixing persistent, prevalent rail safety flaws,” Blumenthal said. “More inspectors on the ground will enable detection of track defects and other deficiencies to deter and prevent future tragedies like Spuyten Duyvil and Bridgeport costing lives and dollars. Additional safety steps are urgently necessary but this money combined with FRA’s camera rule commitment marks real progress.”
The senators point to a 2012 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), which says FRA is only able to inspect about one percent of the nation’s tracks each year with the resources it is allocated. The agency’s rail-safety oversight framework relies on inspections to ensure railroads comply with federal safety regulations. FRA inspects railroad infrastructure and operations, identifies safety defects and may cite railroads for violations.
On December 17, RT&S reported on the request the senators made for more more funds for rail inspectors.