State and local governments can now obtain railroad bridge inspection reports by making requests on the website of the Federal Railroad Administration (“FRA”). This new tool will help state and local governments gain better information regarding this important aspect of railroad safety in their communities.

Access to the public version of bridge inspection reports is required by section 11405 of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (“FAST” Act). Under the FAST Act, the following information about a bridge will be included in the report:

  • The date of the last inspection;
  • The length of the bridge;
  • The location of the bridge;
  • The type of bridge (superstructure);
  • The type of structure (substructure);
  • Features crossed by the bridge;
  • Railroad contact information; and a
  • General statement on the condition of the bridge.

FRA Administrator Sarah E. Feinberg describes this FAST Act requirement as a “great first step.” However, the Administrator advocates for funding so that FRA can double its bridge safety staff and create a national bridge inventory database.

Improving railroad bridge transparency has been a goal of Administrator Feinberg and FRA. In September 2015, the Administrator wrote to the railroads saying, “[w]hen a local leader or elected official asks a railroad about the safety status of a railroad bridge, they deserve a timely and transparent response.”

A spokesperson the Association of American Railroads, (“AAR”) told the publication Railway Age: “[f]reight railroads are complying with the FAST Act measure passed by Congress, which provides a workable framework for freight railroads to provide pertinent inspection information that is requested.” Additionally, the AAR said that freight railroads are working to “enhance bridge information sharing” by posting bridge information on the individual railroad’s own websites.

State and local governments may download bridge inspection report requests via FRA’s website and email the request to FRABridgeInspectionReportRequest@dot.gov. FRA reviews the request and then submits it to the responsible railroad. FRA expects to respond to requests for information within 45 days of the receipt of the request.