Rail Safety: Targeting Oversight and Assessing Results


Jeremy F. Plant is a professor of public policy and administration in the School of Public Affairs at Penn State Harrisburg, where he teaches in the graduate programs in public administration. He has written widely about rail safety and security issues and recently edited The Handbook of Transportation Policy and Administration (Taylor & Francis, 2007). He is a founding member and former chair of ASPA’s Section on Transportation Policy and Administration and consulted with the U.S. Coast Guard, Federal Highway Administration, and other agencies and nonprofit organizations in the field of transportation studies.
E-mail: jfp2@psu.edu


Rail safety has emerged as a significant issue in the past two years as a result of two major factors: a statistical lack of improvement in rail safety in the past decade, and a catalytic event in the form of a major derailment involving loss of life at Graniteville, South Carolina, in January 2005. The convergence of long-term leveling of rail safety indicators and the shock of a major rail accident prompted the Senate Appropriations Committee to ask the Government Accountability Office to assess the oversight role of the Federal Railroad Administration, the modal agency of the U.S. Department of Transportation charged with overseeing rail safety. The report is a reminder of the continuing importance of regulatory activities and the general movement in federal management toward greater use of data and performance measures since the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993.