Federal Railroad Administration Site Visit


FRA: Administrator Jolene Molitoris (by phone), George Gavalla, John Leeds, Mike Logue, Doug Taylor

NPR: Audrey Borja, Steve Rusczcyk, Gene Sheskin, Patty Sun

Researcher: Patty Sun

For further information, contact:
Alex Della Valle
(202) 493-6210


FRA’s rail safety mission is the key to its strength. The Administrator believes strongly in customer and employee satisfaction, as well as an environment of trust and open communication.

FRA has approximately 750 employees nationwide; 250 are in headquarters and the rest are divided among eight regions. The agency's largest component is its Office of Safety, which has 400 inspectors split among five disciplines: signal, motive power and equipment, operating practices (human factors), hazardous materials, and track.

In its answers to NPR's screening questionnaire, FRA explained how it measures results from its Safety Assurance and Compliance Program (SACP). SACP addresses railroad cultural issues and root causes of safety problems with the goal of reaching "zero tolerance for safety hazards."

Business Results

Each year the Administrator sets aggressive performance goals in her Performance Agreement with the Secretary of Transportation. All FRA employees participate in setting agency goals, which are tracked by the Deputy Secretary. The Administrator holds meetings every 6-8 weeks to monitor performance. FRA exceeded most of its goals last year and is establishing even tougher targets for the future.

FRA has reduced the number of employee casualties (fatalities and injuries) by 45% since 1993. Working within the SACP framework, FRA set up "listening posts" to talk to railroad employees about issues like fatigue and harassment and has implemented tracking systems to monitor progress. FRA has changed its culture to measure increases in safety, not just fines, and to look for safety partnerships.

Last year was FRA's most productive in terms of significant rulemakings, largely due to a Rail Safety Advisory Committee (RSAC) that facilitates high quality rulemaking through collaborations with rail labor and industry. RSAC resolves issues and conflicts through partnerships but is very labor/people/travel intensive because of the face-to-face meetings required. There are currently about 800 people on different working groups "negotiating and visioning to push safety forward."


The Administrator holds herself accountable for FRA's mission and goals and is personally involved in their achievement. She uses a hands on approach and delegates, but never steps away. She believes in knowing, listening, and facilitating. The Administrator sets a safety threshold for which every employee is accountable and has input.

FRA's performance goals link with budget allocations, which aids in tracking costs with goals. Upfront planning has been a key to FRA’s success and culture change. A webpage and electronic docket provide up-to-date information to employees and other interested parties. All data is downloadable from the FRA website, . Making safety data easily available to inspectors has helped grassroots level enforcement.


FRA has reinvented itself from a command and control organization to one where customers and employees are informed and empowered. The "old us vs. them" paradigm has been replaced with an open dialogue and relationships based on trust. Communication with both internal and external stakeholders is essential.


Employees have had to fundamentally change their thinking, skillsets, and images in order to institute and support FRA's new practices. To achieve culture change, there must be trust and communication, and the agency must achieve success in visible ways.

Respect for employees has been important in gaining their trust as roles have changed. There is a noticeable focus on results and employees have stepped up and become leaders. The real challenge has been to balance resources, life, health, and family obligations while doing so many different things.

FRA has training available on different career paths and has set up employee teams for projects like redesigning its awards system. The agency is considering both employee and customer surveys similar to the one recently developed on workforce diversity.


FRA benchmarks with customers and with other Department of Transportation (DOT) agencies (particularly the Federal Highway Administration, Federal Transit Administration, and Research and Special Projects Administration) to identify and improve its business practices. FRA also benchmarks with DOT as a whole and has used consultants from Martin Marietta for strategic planning retreats.

New FRA Environment --Lessons Learned and Best Practices

  • To gain trust, you must achieve success in visible ways.
  • Balance resources, life, health, and family obligations.
  • Communication is the biggest challenge, so direct continuous efforts to it.
  • Administrator is accountable, but so are all employees.
  • Quality process – person to person interaction is crucial.
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