Posts Tagged ‘U.S. Government Accountability Office’

GAO Says 7 to 19 Commuter Railroads Won’t Meet PTC Deadline, Qualify for Waiver

March 1, 2018

Two-thirds of U.S. commuter railroads are likely to miss the Dec. 31 deadline to install positive train control, the Government Accountability Office said in a report released on Wednesday.

The GAO report said under current law those transit agencies may not be eligible for a deadline extension, either.

Seven to 19 U.S. commuter railroads have not given their workers enough time to complete six milestones required by the Federal Railroad Administration to qualify for waivers for full positive train control operation.

That waiver allows a railroad that is required to have PTC operational by Dec. 31 to get an extension up to Dec. 31, 2020. The six milestones are:

• Installing all necessary PTC system hardware.
• Acquiring all necessary radio spectrum.
• Completing required employee training.
• Submitting to the FRA an alternate implementation schedule.
• Certifying that a railroad will comply with the law according to the alternative schedule.
• Operating a revenue service demonstration on at least one territory where PTC will be required.

The latter requirement is causing the biggest problems for commuter railroads, the GAO report said, because it can take one to three years from the beginning of field tests, during which trains are not relying on PTC systems but are connected to the systems, to the start of revenue demonstrations.

Seven commuter railroads can’t begin testing until June, which leaves them at risk of failing to qualify for a waiver.

The report does not name the railroads that are likely to miss the PTC deadline.

As for why the railroads are struggling to comply with the law, the GAO report cited a variety of factors, including a lack of expertise, scheduling difficulties, lack of coordination between host railroads (often Class I freight railroads) and commuter lines, as well as FRA’s capacity to handle the work load.

The GAO recommended that the FRA create a standard way to send information to railroads on deadline extension criteria and processes.

It also suggested that the FRA set up a priority system for how it will allocate personnel and resources to process an expected increase in paperwork that railroads submit, as well as assist those railroads that need technical assistance.

Thus far, the FRA has been releasing information in informal ways, including presentations at industry conferences and webinars, rather than through formal, published documents.

The GAO found that the FRA has only 12 staffers who have the skills needed to review the PTC paperwork submitted by the railroads.

An FRA spokesperson told Trains magazine that it plans to hold meeting with executives of all 41 railroads required to have PTC installed this year to assess their challenges and implementation plans.

Information gleaned from those meetings will be used to conduct oversight of railroads’ PTC activities.

GAO Wants Better FRA Oversight of Car Order

June 4, 2016

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.

GAO Critical of Amtrak’s Financial Reporting

January 8, 2016

The U.S. Government Accountability Office this week was sharply critical of Amtrak’s financial accounting, calling its reporting of financial information “inconsistent and incomplete.”

The GAO said this has hindered Amtrak’s ability to demonstrate the progress it has made since restructuring itself in 2012 into three business lines.

Those business units, the Northeast Corridor, state-supported services and long-distance trains, were expected to improve performance accountability for its performance.

A strategic management system implemented by the long-distance business unit reflects several leading performance management practices, such as linking line-of-business goals and initiatives to corporate-wide strategies, assigning personnel to execute the initiatives, and tracking the results.

However, Amtrak hasn’t implemented that system across its other business units. The GAO said that better reporting, planning and financial information could enhance decision-making at Amtrak

The Northeast Corridor Infrastructure and Operations Advisory Commission, which was created to develop the NEC’s infrastructure needs, has yet to develop criteria for setting the priorities of the projects in its five-year, $17.7 billion capital plan.

The consequences of that, the GAO said, is that Congress and the states lack information to inform their decisions about whether to provide additional funding for those plans.

Along those lines, the GAO said Amtrak has not developed clear information detailing specific costs and activities related to operations for state-supported routes that would be funded by federal money.

Among the recommendations that the GAO made are:
• Prioritizing the adoption of the strategic management system in all lines of business and functional departments.
• Externally reporting how Amtrak’s initiatives meet the goals established under the strategic management system.
• Being consistent in its monthly performance reports and the five-year financial plan to show all Amtrak revenue and expenses by major function for each line of business.
• Ensuring that depreciation expenses are appropriately allocated to the lines of business once underlying capital asset data are determined reliable.
• Delineating specific costs and activities for state-supported routes that are covered by the federal government and communicating that information to Congress, such as part of Amtrak’s annual budget request.

  • Prioritizing capital projects under the Northeast Corridor Commission.