REPORT FAULTS RAIL AGENCY, AMTRAK ON SAFETY ISSUES

REPORT FAULTS RAIL AGENCY, AMTRAK ON SAFETY ISSUES

A congressional investigating agency's report, issued on the same day as the Amtrak train derailment in Alabama that killed 47 people, criticized the passenger railroad and the Federal Railroad Administration's handling of passenger car safety issues.

The National Transportation Safety Board's investigation of last Wednesday's accident did not focus on passenger cars, concentrating instead on whether a barge tow that was lost damaged a bridge and knocked the tracks out of alignment, causing the accident 10 miles north of Mobile.But the report by the General Accounting Office recommended that the railroad agency study all passenger railroads and evaluate them for minimum safety criteria for passenger car components, and establish regulations if needed. Because the Transportation Department agency has few regulations covering passenger cars, it has little enforcement authority, the GAO said.

The safety board recommended several times that the rail administration expand its oversight of passenger equipment. The GAO said it took the rail agency more than 20 years to implement safety board recommendations regarding installation of seat locks and luggage restraints.

Sue Martin, an Amtrak spokeswoman, said the railroad agreed with some findings noted in a draft version of the GAO report that the carrier reviewed, but said Amtrak officials were studying the final report before commenting further.

The Federal Railroad Administration spokesman had no immediate comment, a spokesman said.

The report says Amtrak doesn't have hard-and-fast rules for determining when a car should be kept out of service, and recommends that Amtrak establish safety standards and procedures and assure that cars are operated in compliance with them.

Budget problems limit funds for overhauls and shortages force Amtrak to keep all available cars in revenue service, which increases the need for establishing and adhering to standards, the GAO said. Revenue shortfalls and limited operating funds have delayed planned repairs with such frequency that 40 percent of Amtrak's cars will be past due for equipment overhauls as of Oct. 1.