GAO Wants Better FRA Oversight of Car Order

The U.S. Government Accountability Office is recommending that the Federal Railroad Administration improve its oversight of the stalled project to build new passenger cars for Midwest and West Coast corridor passenger trains.

The agency issued its report in the wake of funding uncertainty for a 172-car order placed with Nippon Sharyo.

FRAMost of those cars – 130 – are being funded by a $551 million grant from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

But that grant will expire on Sept. 17, 2017, if it is not spent by then.

The rest of the passenger cars are being funded by California Department of Transportation and are not subject to the same federal grant.

Production of the cars was halted after a prototype shell failed a compression test last August at the Nippon Sharyo factory in Rochelle, Illinois.

Engineers and designers have sought to find a solution to the problem but thus far have not come up with one.

The GAO said the FRA could be more effective in managing grant money by requiring “timely and actionable information on grantee performance” in its review process, giving grant recipients more specific guidance for tracking information such as deliverables and project milestones, and by formalizing a training plan for grantees and agency staff.

“Prior to 2009, FRA had a very limited grant portfolio, receiving appropriations for approximately $30 million in grant funding in fiscal year 2008, for example,” the report said. “With expanded responsibilities, the agency had to quickly award approximately $8 billion in Recovery Act funds while simultaneously developing policies and procedures for grants management.”

The U.S. Department of Transportation said it concurs with the report’s findings and will report within 60 days its plans to implement the recommendations.

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