Railroad Safety

DOD Can Improve the Safety of On-Base Track and Equipment Gao ID: RCED-91-135 June 20, 1991

Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO examined the safety of the Department of Defense's (DOD) railroad equipment, focusing on: (1) the condition of track systems on military installations; and (2) compliance with Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) safety standards.

GAO found that: (1) DOD has not adopted FRA safety standards or developed its own uniform safety criteria; (2) despite its noncompliance with FRA standards, DOD rail equipment did not pose a risk of failure, but could pose risks to operating personnel; (3) although the equipment did not meet FRA safety standards, Army and Navy officials noted that the on-base fleet was safe, since it operated under less stressful conditions than commercial equipment, but DOD lacked minimum safety standards commensurate with those less severe conditions; (4) 38 percent to 98 percent of the 3,441 rail cars assigned at 33 DOD installations were not roadworthy, as measured by FRA safety standards, due to a lack of safety appliances, defective brake systems, component defects, and use of restricted equipment, and none of the 24 locomotives reviewed complied with all applicable safety standards; (5) Army and Navy maintenance standards were vague and conflicting, and maintenance personnel did not know which standards to use; (6) DOD, the Army, and the Navy lacked established equipment safety standards to ensure against fire hazards; (7) the Navy provided detailed blocking and bracing instructions for securing hazardous materials, but none of the three Army installations visited had developed such instructions; (8) at the seven installations visited, 76 percent of the derailments or other accidents were partially attributed to defective track; (9) track conditions were adequate for posted speed limits but routine preventive maintenance was generally not performed; and (10) Army and Navy officials noted that they lacked the funds or staff to inspect and maintain track to meet FRA requirements.


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