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FRA Lacks Sufficient Oversight Controls To Consistently Assess Conductor Certification Compliance

Self-initiated
Project ID: 
ST2020050
What We Looked At
Freight trains in the United States generally operate with a conductor, who is responsible for the train, freight, and crew, and an engineer, who operates the locomotive. To ensure that only people who meet minimum Federal safety standards serve as conductors, in 2011, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) issued a rule for the certification of conductors, Title 49, Code of Federal Regulations, Part 242. This rule requires railroads to have a formal program for training prospective conductors and determining that they are competent before they are certified. Given the potential impact of the conductor certification rule on railroad safety, we initiated this audit to assess FRA’s oversight of railroad conductor certification programs.
 
What We Found
FRA does not have sufficient oversight controls to consistently assess railroads’ compliance with Part 242 requirements. Specifically, FRA reviews of railroad conductor certification programs lack formal procedures. FRA officials currently evaluate programs using a checklist with some Part 242 requirements, an industry group program template, and officials’ professional judgment. These narrow reviews are not comprehensive, however, because programs are not evaluated at a consistent level of detail, and the process remains undocumented. FRA officials also perform Part 242 inspections and compliance audits without comprehensive procedures. As a result, the audit documentation and inspection data do not identify all of the Agency’s Part 242 compliance audits or demonstrate audit quality. However, FRA is responsive to Part 242 waiver requests and conductor certification petitions. Specifically, the Agency has procedures in place for handling waiver requests and is meeting its goal timelines for reviewing and deciding on petitions.
 
Our Recommendations
We made five recommendations to improve FRA’s oversight of railroad conductor certification programs, guidance for program officials and inspectors, and quality of its audit data. FRA concurred with all of our recommendations, and we consider them resolved but open pending completion of the planned actions.

Recommendations

Open

Closed

No. 1 to FRA

Develop and implement a procedure for reviewing and tracking new and updated railroad conductor certification programs.

No. 2 to FRA

Finalize the Operating Practices Compliance Manual chapter on conductor certification compliance and enforcement and distribute it to inspectors; include a process an inspector can use to notify FRA Headquarters about a problem with a railroad's conductor certification program.

No. 3 to FRA

Develop and implement a plan for systematically conducting Part 242 compliance audits of all railroads to which the regulations apply.

No. 4 to FRA

Modify the Railroad Inspection System for Personal Computers (RISPC) to capture data that specifies the types of Part 242 oversight activities inspectors are recording.

No. 5 to FRA

Develop and issue instructions on the proper entry of Part 242 activity codes in RISPC.