SCHUMER ANNOUNCES: FRA HAS HEEDED HIS CALL & HAS PROPOSED DOUBLING THE NUMBER OF RAIL BRIDGE INSPECTORS; SENATOR SAID MORE INSPECTORS ARE DESPERATELY NEEDED
Schumer Previously Pushed To Increase The Number Of Fed Railroad Bridge Inspectors, Because FRA Only Has 1 Inspector For All 3,000 Train Bridges In NY
Following Schumer’s Push, FRA Has Proposed Doubling The Number Of RR Bridge Inspectors & Establishing “Nationwide Bridge Inventory”
Schumer: More RR Bridge Inspectors Are Needed To Keep Our Communities Safe
U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today announced that, following his push, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has proposed doubling the number of railroad bridge inspector program staff from eight to 16 staff in its FY 2017 budget. Schumer said Upstate New York has a clear need for more railroad inspectors, and that there is simply not enough manpower right now on the federal level to inspect and audit these bridges on schedule. That is why Schumer is calling this news a major step forward in increasing the safety of rail bridges across Upstate New York State
“The FRA’s proposal to double the number of rail bridge inspectors and create a nationwide inventory where we can document high-risk bridges is a significant step in the right direction. It’s truly alarming that only one person is responsible for auditing thousands of privately owned rail bridges in New York – on top of being responsible for all of the rail bridges in 13 other states. It does not take a rail safety expert to know the math doesn’t add up – so I am pushing my colleagues to ensure the proposed federal funding becomes a reality. It shouldn’t take tragic derailment or a horrific rail-bridge collapse to get Congress to invest in more rail safety inspectors,” said Schumer.
In 2014, Schumer revealed that there are currently only seven specialists tasked with overseeing audits for the FRA. Only 1 percent of the 70,000 to 100,000 privately owned train bridges across the entire country are audited in any given year. In New York State, there is only one specialist assigned to over 3,000 privately owned train bridges, and that specialist is also responsible for bridges in 13 other states. Schumer said that, given the meager staff and dense caseload, it is nearly impossible for these federal specialists to address all of the potential safety concerns surrounding these bridges and, as a result, it is likely that safety issues across New York State and the country may be slipping through the cracks. Schumer explained the FRA has also proposed establishing a nationwide bridge inventory to document the age of bridges and the date of last inspection. Schumer said both of these measures would go a long way for increasing railroad bridge safety, and he vowed to fight for the federal funding necessary in the final federal FY 2017 appropriations bill to make these proposals a reality.
Schumer explained that trains cross these railroad bridges every day, carrying passengers and freight. Many of these bridges are owned by companies like CSX, Norfolk Southern, and Canadian Pacific and used predominantly for freight shipping, including the transport of hazardous material and crude oil. For this reason and the fact that these bridges crisscross local roads traveled by thousands of New Yorkers, Schumer said the safety of the rail bridges across Upstate New York is a priority. As a result, in 2014, Schumer began his push to increase the program’s budget to hire more inspectors. Schumer said that federal inspectors are critical in ensuring that private railroad companies are keeping bridges safe and we must dedicate more manpower and funding to ensure bridges across Upstate New York are not deteriorating or at risk of collapsing. While railroads are responsible to fix their own bridges, the one federal inspector for the State of NY has the impossible task of auditing all privately owned NY bridges.
Schumer explained that, in its FY 2017 budget, the FRA has proposed increasing the number of railroad bridge program staff from eight to 16. This additional staff will not only be able to undertake new assignments to increase bridge safety; but will also be able to expand their existing audit and inspection efforts including placing greater emphasis on the performance of bridge inspection report audits to ensure that reports accurately reflect the condition of the bridges being documented. Schumer said this would be critical to improving rail bridge safety across Upstate NY and the country.
Schumer said the FRA has also proposed establishing a nationwide bridge inventory to document the age of bridges and the date of last inspection, among other pieces of data. The proposed inventory would allow FRA to analyze the data and target its inspection to review more high risk areas. Schumer said this would greatly help improve railroad safety.
New York has provided a vital geographic rail link between the Midwest and East coast ports for centuries, in addition to moving thousands of passengers by rail each day. As a result, the rail bridges that carry these freight and passenger trains over other roadways and bodies of water on a daily basis are often carrying heavier shipments than they were designed to with increasing frequency. Schumer said this means these bridges are likely to be deteriorating at a faster rate and, therefore, are in desperate need of inspection and auditing to ensure the safety of passenger trains and the communities through which freight trains run.
There are currently an estimated 70,000 to 100,000 privately owned rail bridges in the U.S., and there are over 3,000 privately owned train bridges across New York State. Many of these bridges are owned by freight rail companies like CSX, Norfolk Southern and Canadian Pacific, and are used predominantly for freight shipping, including the transport of hazardous material like crude oil. However, under current law, while public roadway bridges must be inspected at least every other year – a task which in New York State falls to the state Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) – privately owned railroad bridges do not have this same requirement. Instead, train companies like CSX or Norfolk Southern are required to self-inspect their own train bridges once every year and are subject to oversight by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA).
During a press conference call last April, Schumer explained that the FRA plays a vital oversight role, ensuring that the owners of these bridges are investing adequately in their maintenance and following the required load restrictions. However, currently, there are too few bridge safety specialists and inspectors employed by the FRA to properly monitor and audit the entire system. While the FRA bridge safety experts are charged with auditing and reviewing the safety reports conducted by each railroad, they are often unable to review and audit much more than 1 percent of them in any given year. This is because there are currently only seven federal inspectors for all of the privately owned train bridges across the country, and there is only one specialist assigned to over 3,000 privately owned train bridges in New York State, and that specialist is also responsible for bridges in 13 other states. Schumer said the limited number of bridge safety specialists and the overall national inventory of rail bridges raises significant concerns about the specialists’ ability to properly audit the bridges and ensure that they meet design and engineering standards.
Schumer said that, in order for the one inspector assigned to New York State to audit every single bridge each year – assuming he works all 365 days in the year and never goes to any of the 13 other states he covers – he would have to inspect at least 8 bridges per day, which is simply not feasible. Therefore, Schumer said the federal government must increase the total number of federal bridge safety inspectors around New York State and the country. Schumer said these federal inspectors play a critical role in double-checking the inspections conducted by private railroad companies, but they cannot perform anywhere near the number of audits they should be performing because they are so short-staffed. If an FRA specialist finds a problem, they may require additional review by the railroad or upgrades or maintenance. In emergency situations, they may shut the bridge down entirely. Schumer said increasing the funding to this federal agency could at least double the number of inspectors, and increase its ability to audit more bridges each year.
Last April, Schumer revealed the number of rail bridges in each region of New York State, and said that these rail bridges are potentially not being audited due to the lack of inspectors and therefore at risk. As of April 2015, according to the NYSDOT, there are roughly 3,000 rail bridges across New York State, including 2,158 in Upstate New York alone.
· In the Capital Region, there are 281 privately-owned rail bridges.
· In Central New York, there are 261 privately-owned rail bridges.
· In Western New York, there are 487 privately-owned rail bridges.
· In the Rochester Finger Lakes, there are 232 privately-owned rail bridges.
· In the Southern Tier, there are 446 privately-owned rail bridges.
· In the Hudson Valley, there are 307 privately-owned rail bridges.
· In the North Country, there are 144 privately-owned rail bridges.
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