The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has released its annual enforcement report summarizing the regulatory compliance inspections and audits conducted in the past fiscal year by FRA or state inspectors participating in FRA’s rail safety program, as well as the civil penalty enforcement actions arising from them.
FRA reported on May 19 that more than 70,000 inspections were conducted in FY 2021 to assess railroad compliance with regulations and laws that govern track, motive power and equipment, operating practices, signal and train control, hazardous materials, grade crossing signal system safety, industrial hygiene, and safety management systems.
Federal and state rail safety inspectors have several enforcement tools at their disposal, according to FRA.
FRA inspectors and managers, the agency said, “consider the inherent seriousness of the condition or action; the kind and degree of potential safety hazard the condition or action poses; any actual harm to persons or property already caused by the condition or action; and the offending entity’s general level of compliance as revealed by the inspection.”
Enforcement actions may be against a railroad (such as Class I’s and Amtrak), a railroad contractor, a hazardous material shipper, a tank car manufacturer, or an individual.
Civil penalties are assessed based on specific guidelines outlined in the Code of Federal Regulations. FRA said it “may elect to settle such claims, as authorized by the Federal Claims Collection Act, based on a wide variety of mitigating factors. Doing so can permit the efficient collection of claims, usually without requiring time-consuming, costly or protracted litigation that does not materially improve safety.” Additionally, civil monetary penalties “are reserved for the most severe instances of non-compliance.”
The FY 2021 report (download below) includes:
• A summary of rail safety and hazmat compliance inspections and audits FRA or state inspectors conducted and enforcement actions FRA recommended.
• A summary of FRA civil penalty enforcement actions sorted by type of alleged violation and type of respondent, including railroads, hazmat shippers, contractors, and individuals.
• A discussion of the relationship between inspections and enforcement actions, the number and rate of reportable accidents and incidents and railroad safety.
• An analysis of locomotive engineer certification cases brought before FRA.
• A list of civil penalty cases that FRA has closed.
“This enforcement report provides a snapshot of one important aspect of FRA’s safety oversight, highlighting the thousands of hours our teams invest in hands-on fieldwork each year,” FRA Administrator Amit Bose said. “Through the pandemic, FRA inspectors have continued this work to help ensure the safety of our nation’s railroads.”