Friday, October 26, 2007

Government Report Questions Railway Bridge Safety

After a train carrying hazardous chemicals derailed in Duluth in 1992, a federal investigation found rail failure on the bridge approach. Their report was critical of the railroad’s inspection practices. Today reporters found out that not much has changed. A government report obtained by reporters calls into question the safety of railway bridges. On average, trains cross a bridge every mile and a half, but unlike highway bridges, railway bridges are privately owned. This means the inspections are left up to the railroads. According to the GAO report, more than half of the nation’s railway bridges were built before 1920. The report says many bridges have not been replaced and some are being used long after their original useful life. From 1998 to 2006, 22 train accidents were attributed to bridge structural failure. The report calls for railroads to "increase their attention to bridge safety and bridge management programs".According to state records, there are more than two-dozen railroads doing business in Minnesota. Mike Schwab, of the Department of Homeland Security, said railroads provide the state with only the most basic information about their cars, tracks and bridges. "They supply what is necessary to submit our reports to the government," Schwab said. "I would not say they go beyond that." The government report says government officials tried to get a handle on the true condition of rail bridges, but in some cases, found that railroads do not keep inspection reports. Others could not even provide a full list of the bridges they own. Congressman Jim Oberstar said the railroads themselves have not invested in new bridges and the Federal Railroad Administration has not done enough to police the rail industry. By the end of the year, the FRA will send out a formal advisory, urging railroads to take a closer look at their bridges and their inspection policies.