A new study says the country’s freight railroads are still operating at a loss, despite billions of dollars in federal funding to upgrade the railroads.
The federal government says $1.3 billion in federal stimulus money has been spent to build the rail lines, and there are still “significant deficiencies” in their operation, according to a study released Tuesday by the nonprofit American Railroads.
But the study found there are “substantial” deficiencies in the systems and the workmanship of the railcars.
“It is clear that many of the systems are not functioning properly,” said Tom McGehee, president and CEO of the railroad trade association.
“The railroads have made tremendous investments to improve operations, but it is unclear if these investments are paying off or if the investment has been made to no avail.”
The study, called “A New Look at Railcar Maintenance and Operation,” was done by researchers from the University of Kansas and the American Association of State Railroad Engineers, and was conducted by consulting firm Ernst & Young.
The railcars are used by the nation’s largest freight rail companies, such as East Central Railways, Eastern Illinois, Southern Illinois, and United States Steel.
The companies operate some 2,500 miles of freight rail routes, according the study.
The researchers found there were “serious shortcomings in railcar maintenance and operation” on a railcar by rail route basis, including a lack of maintenance staff, poor maintenance of the equipment and safety equipment, and poor track-work and lighting.
The study also found that railcars on a route are “not properly maintained, often without any training,” the use of equipment and tracks that “fail to meet standards for performance, reliability and performance monitoring,” and poor maintenance and equipment in areas that are off-limits for trains.
The experts identified “a number of potential deficiencies in train handling and operation,” including insufficient training of drivers and crew, inadequate training for train operators, inadequate monitoring of the trains, poor training of employees for maintenance, poor communication between train operators and crew and poor safety training for drivers and other crew members.
The report found a lack in maintenance staff on some of the tracks, a lack “of proper safety monitoring,” an “over-reliance on the ability of the operators to identify the presence of equipment in unsafe locations, and a lack or inability to identify safety hazards at tracks.”
A lack of training and communication between operators and train crews is also “significant,” according to the report.
The report said, “The extent of the deficiencies are not well understood.”
In addition to the study, the railroad industry has launched a new program to hire more people to repair track, and the Department of Transportation is working on a plan to upgrade some rail lines to track and other facilities that can withstand a 10-year earthquake.
McGehee said he hopes the study will provide a clearer picture of the status of railroads’ systems and train operations.
“The rail industry has made tremendous improvements to improve operation over the last several years, but there is still a number of serious deficiencies,” he said.
“And we want to ensure the future of rail operations is sound and safe.”
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