04.09.15

SCHUMER: WITH ONLY 1 FEDERAL RAILROAD INSPECTOR FOR ALL 3,000 TRAIN BRIDGES IN NYS, WHICH ARE NOW CARRYING DANGEROUS CRUDE OIL TRAINS, SENATOR CALLS FOR MORE RAILROAD BRIDGE INSPECTORS

Schumer Says Having One Bridge Safety Specialist Puts New Yorkers Directly At Risk; Inspector Is Responsible For Auditing Safety Of Bridges Not Only In New York, But 13 Other States – While Railroads Are Responsible To Fix Their Own Bridges, Fed Inspector Has the Impossible Task to Audit All Privately Owned NY Bridges

 

Schumer Says Increasing The Amount Of Federal Railroad Bridge Inspectors Should Be A Main Priority; An Outside Monitor Is Essential To Maintaining the Safety of NY Rail Bridges & Communities -- Trains Cross These Bridges Every Day, Carrying Passengers &  Freight, Which includes Dangerous Materials and Crude Oil   

 

Schumer Reveals NYS Bridges Could Be at Risk if They are Not Inspected & Audited on Schedule: In The Capital Region, There Are 281 Rail Bridges; In WNY, 487; In CNY, 261; In The Rochester-Finger Lakes, 232; In The Hudson Valley, 307; In The Southern Tier, 446; In The North Country, 144

 

On a conference call with reporters today, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer launched his push to increase the number of federal railroad bridge safety specialists nationwide. Schumer revealed that there are currently only seven specialists tasked with overseeing audits for the Federal Railroad Administration. 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. 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  and, therefore, announced his push to increase the program’s budget to hire more inspectors in FY 2016. 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.

 

“It’s truly alarming that only one person is responsible for auditing 3,000 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. The fact that safety concerns could be slipping through the cracks makes it clear as day that we must increase the number of inspectors and rail specialists that audit these critical links nationwide. We have all seen the result of oil train derailments in Lynchburg, Lac-Megantic, and West Virginia – we don’t want to repeat that nightmare scenario in Upstate New York because of a faulty rail bridge that was simply overlooked in the inspection process,” said Schumer. “I will be aggressively pushing to secure additional funding to hire more train bridge inspectors so we can ensure that private companies are doing their job and keeping these bridges in top-notch shape. We should not be waiting for a derailment or a horrific collapse to do something, we can’t let anything slip through the cracks, and we have to make sure our train bridges are safe over the long haul.”

 

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. However, Schumer said, despite the clear need to keep up with the maintenance and inspection of these train bridges, there is simply not enough manpower on the federal level to inspect and audit these bridges on schedule. That is why Schumer is pushing to increase the number of federal railroad bridge safety specialists nationwide.

 

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 and 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).

 

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 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 is pushing to 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 that it is unacceptable to have so few rail safety inspectors, and he announced a push to increase the program’s budget and hire more federal inspectors next year. Schumer said that by simply adding $1 million more to the FRA budget for these Bridge Safety Specialists, the federal agency could at least double the number of inspectors, and increase its ability to audit more bridges each year.

 

During the call, 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. According to the New York State Department of Transportation, 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.

 

Schumer said there is not enough federal oversight over these bridges and the FRA must be provided the resources needed to audit more of them. In addition, Schumer noted the FRA currently has no set of engineering standards for railroad bridges, relying almost entirely on individual railroads to inspect, maintain and repair their own bridges and trestles, some of them built more than a century ago. The funding level for the rail bridge safety specialist program is currently just over $1 million per year. Schumer said that doubling this federal allocation would enable FRA to add at least seven more inspectors and help cut down on the heavy caseload. Doing this would in turn drastically increase the number of federal reviews and audits that could occur per year. Schumer said this would improve the level of safety – and help restore peace of mind – for the residents and businesses within the vicinity of these rail bridges. Schumer said he will be pushing for increased federal funding as part of the upcoming appropriations process to enable the FRA to hire additional Rail Bridge Safety Specialists.

 

A copy of Senator Schumer’s letter to the Federal Railroad Administration appears below:

 

Dear Acting Administrator Feinberg:

 

I am writing today to express my concern about the estimated 70,000 – 100,000 privately owned railroad bridges across the Country. These bridges, many of which cross major commuter routes, are owned by railroad companies who are responsible for their maintenance and annual inspection. The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) plays a vital oversight role in this process, 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 employed by the FRA to properly monitor and audit the entire system.

 

In 2010, the FRA released a final rule related to Bridge Safety Standards. As part of that rule, railroads were required to do a number of things including maintain an inventory of all of their rail bridges and their load capacity,  ensuring bridge engineers meet qualification requirements, and implementing bridge management programs that included annual inspections of all railroad bridges. In order to enforce this requirement FRA currently employs 6 Bridge Safety Specialists and 1 Supervisor who are tasked with auditing the bridge management programs and individual inspection reports across the entire country for all privately owned rail bridges. 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. Current staffing levels allow the Bridge Safety Specialists to audit roughly 1% of the national railroad bridge inventory annually, this is simply unacceptable. Therefore, I urge you to prioritize this type of inspection, and if needed, add additional resources to this program to allow for the hiring of additional Bridge Safety Specialists.

 

Structural flaws and defects in these bridges could always be catastrophic regardless of the type of freight being transported. However, in New York we have seen a massive increase in the transportation of volatile crude oil by rail which poses an even greater risk should a bridge collapse or fail. Estimates are that there are over 3,000 railroad bridges in New York alone and at current staffing levels the FRA specialist tasked with auditing those bridges also has to cover 13 other states. This lack of oversight leaves massive gaps in our rail safety system and creates an environment where hundreds of unsafe bridges could be in daily use without proper federal oversight. 

 

If you need an additional appropriation to address this issue than I stand ready to work with you to ensure that you have the needed authorization. However, it is my understanding that under the current structure FRA has the budgetary authority and flexibility to add additional Bridge Safety Specialists – I encourage you to make use of this flexibility immediately and get more specialists on the job auditing safety reports across the country.

 

I appreciate your attention to this issue, should you have further questions please do not hesitate to contact my office.

 

Sincerely,

 

Charles E. Schumer

United States Senator

 

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