September 28, 2020
FRA Lacks Sufficient Oversight Controls To Consistently Assess Conductor Certification Compliance
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.
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.