Audit Reports

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FRA’s Oversight of Hazardous Materials Shipments Lacks Comprehensive Risk Evaluation and Focus on Deterrence

Project ID: 

In July 2013, a train carrying crude oil derailed in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, Canada, resulting in fatalities and significant damage. Due to the public safety risks that transporting hazardous materials by rail pose, we initiated this audit to assess the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) use of inspections and other tools to enforce its hazardous materials regulations. 

We identified three areas of concern in FRA’s enforcement of its hazardous materials regulations. First, FRA has not conducted an evaluation of risks associated with hazardous materials transportation that includes national level risks to target inspection resources. Second, while the Agency provides guidance and training for inspectors who enforce hazardous materials regulations, the inspectors do not have easy access to inspection data from other regions. They also frequently cannot access updated information in the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s information system regarding special permits. Third, the civil penalties that FRA pursues for violations of hazardous materials regulations do not account for variations in the severity of violations. Furthermore, despite departmental requirements in several DOT Orders, FRA does not refer cases to OIG for criminal investigation.

We made seven recommendations to help FRA improve risk assessments associated with allocating inspection resources and address concerns about the use of civil penalties and lack of criminal case referrals to OIG. FRA concurred with all seven recommendations. 




Closed on 02.28.2017
No. 1 to FRA

Require the Office of Railroad Safety to periodically perform a comprehensive hazardous materials transportation risk assessment that identifies and assesses the relationship among the regional and national risks associated with achieving program objectives.

Closed on 02.28.2017
No. 2 to FRA

Issue guidance to regions that provides detailed information on the tools available to guide resource allocation decisions and the data feeding each tool, and sets expectations for how regions should incorporate these tools, including the comprehensive risk assessment conducted by the Office of Safety, into resource allocation decisions.

Closed on 10.20.2016
No. 3 to FRA

Develop new FRA Secure Site reports or other tools that meet hazardous materials inspectors' needs for access to inspection data from other regions and provide training on their use.

Closed on 10.19.2016
No. 4 to FRA

Update guidance to inspectors on writing violation reports to include detailed information on how and when to recommend a penalty that differs from the guidelines and what to include in the violation report to support the recommendation.

Closed on 09.16.2016
No. 5 to FRA

Strengthen Office of Chief Counsel procedures for processing penalties at the penalty assessment stage to require attorneys to document their considerations of the penalty assessment factors in 49 USC § 5123 for every violation of hazardous materials regulations.

Closed on 02.28.2017
No. 6 to FRA

Require the Office of Chief Counsel to provide to regional hazardous materials specialists an annual report or regular access to information on penalty amounts for each violation in closed cases.

Closed on 05.09.2016
No. 7 to FRA

Amend Agency policy and procedures to require all staff, including inspectors, to directly report to OIG all suspected criminal violations and instances of fraud, waste, and abuse.