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Federal Railroad Administration Faces Challenges in Carrying Out Expanded Role

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On April 29, the Deputy Inspector General testified before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies regarding intercity passenger rail and the challenges the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) faces in carrying out its expanded role. The Deputy Inspector General's statement focused on: (1) FRA's expanded role and responsibilities under the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act (PRIIA) and the Rail Safety Improvement Act (RSIA); (2) the challenges FRA faces in effectively carrying out its new role; and (3) the progress Amtrak has made in improving its operating and capital financial management. PRIIA and RSIA dramatically realigned FRA’s role and expanded its responsibilities. The Deputy Inspector General indicated that together these two pieces of legislation called for the implementation of a high-speed rail program, improvements in intercity passenger rail services, and safety enhancement initiatives. She stated that each new mandate carries a unique set of challenges for FRA, especially as they relate to implementing the high-speed rail program; and that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) exacerbated these challenges by accelerating timelines in addition to providing FRA an additional $8 billion. At the same time, FRA must continue to carry out its prior responsibilities, including its oversight of Amtrak. Finally, the Deputy Inspector General noted that while our work has found that Amtrak has improved its financial management of operating and capital planning activities, new PRIIA mandates and ARRA funding could require Amtrak to heighten its improvement efforts.