The state’s Department of Transportation lacked records to show adequate and updated safety plans and inspections for many railroad bridges statewide, according to an audit released Tuesday by the comptroller’s office.
Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli tells The Associated Press some safety records required by state law were late and others didn’t exist.
“The gaps in the railroad bridge oversight program uncovered by my auditors are troubling,” DiNapoli said. “DOT needs to do a better job making sure it’s on the same page with the railroads and the federal government so the public can be assured it is not in danger.”
State Department of Transportation officials, however, said all railroad bridges are safe under new, stringent regulations.
A state transportation official said railroads are “ultimately responsible” to inspect their own 3,000 bridges statewide and the Federal Railroad Administration enforces the regulations. The official said all 48 of the state-owned railroad bridges will be inspected by the end of the year as required annually.
The state’s “commitment to bridge safety is unparalleled, regardless of ownership or mode of travel,” state DOT Executive Deputy Commissioner Phillip Eng said.
The department requires railroad owners to certify to the state each year that all inspections were completed on time and that each bridge is safe.
The DOT’s response says the department also is developing an “enterprise asset management system” with the bridge inspection database. The new system will allow the state to “more effectively continue our role of ensuring the safety of bridges,” it says.
“Safety is our top priority, and we have a very aggressive inspection program that exceeds federal standards,” department spokesman Beau Duffy said in an interview Monday.
He said the department also pushes companies to provide their inspection reports on time and in full.
DiNapoli’s auditors said records compiled by the state DOT fail to show all safety inspections and plans have been done.
A Dec. 1 Metro-North Railroad commuter train accident, which killed four people and injured scores of others, wasn’t on a bridge.
Auditors said bridge management plans are on average 10 years old “and some may no longer be relevant.” Those plans describe the policies and procedures of the state’s 38 railroads for completing inspections. One plan was 25 years old, and eight weren’t dated.
As a result, four of 114 state certifications due at the time of the audit earlier this year weren’t submitted, 43 were late and many were incomplete. The audit covered data from Jan. 1, 2010, to June 30, 2013.
Auditors found one bridge, owned by a small scenic railroad company, had gone almost 17 years without a management plan and its load ratings hadn’t been calculated. Auditors also said the state DOT didn’t monitor whether inspections were done on the 48 state-owned bridges and eight inspections weren’t done between 2010 and 2012.
“The department does not sufficiently monitor whether the railroads comply with its bridge inspection and reporting requirements,” said the audit. “In general, the department places little emphasis on the program and devotes minimal resources to it.”
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