An alarming report issued by the federal Transportation Department's inspector general concluded that regulators are failing to adequately safeguard the nation's freight rail shipments of crude oil and other hazardous cargo.
The audit, released last week, concluded that while there had been a significant increase nationwide in rail shipments of crude oil -- from 9,500 carloads in 2008 to 407,761 in 2013 -- the Federal Railroad Administration did not conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the risks associated with the shipments. The report said the agency does not take into account such significant factors as the condition of the infrastructure, shippers' records of complying with regulations and how close the rails are to population centers.
Those findings are bad enough, but the audit also determined that, even when regulators go after violators, they don't do a good enough job.
The audit's conclusion said it all: "Effective oversight of this risk prone area requires thorough, timely inspections as well as the application of deterrent penalties when violations occur." The agency agreed, but simply acknowledging the problems is not enough. Focused, forceful oversight is imperative.