The US Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has launched a new tool on its website that allows states and municipalities to request inspection reports for rail bridges in their communities.
The launch of the new tool emerges after the passage of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act and is one of the first provisions implemented by the FRA.
Under the president’s fiscal year 2017 budget, the agency also requested additional resources to double bridge safety staff and create a national database of bridges.
US transportation secretary Anthony Foxx said: "Communities across the country will now have access to information on the condition of railroad bridges in their area.
"These inspection reports will provide greater transparency between railroads and local leaders, which is an important cornerstone in our comprehensive safety efforts."
FRA noted a city, county, town or municipality can use its website to request information from inspection reports for local bridges.
Once FRA receives the request, the railroad that owns the bridge will have 30 days to respond. The agency plans to provide a copy of the report to the requester within 45 days of the original request.
Under the FAST Act, information about the bridge such as the date of the last inspection, length and location of the bridge, type and features of the bridge, railroad contact information and a general statement on the bridge’s condition will be included in the report.
FRA administrator Sarah Feinberg said: "The Federal Railroad Administration has repeatedly urged railroads to be more responsive and more transparent with state and local leaders concerned about the condition of their local railroad bridges.
"State and local officials will now be able to get more information from railroads on the infrastructure in their communities.
"Providing inspection reports to local leaders is a great first step, but more can, and must, be done.
We hope Congress will provide the resources to double our bridge safety staff and create a national database."
It has been reported the FAST Act addressed the issue after months of Feinberg urging railroads to be more transparent and respond to communities when they have questions and concerns about the condition of rail bridges.
In September, Feinberg sent a letter to all railroads saying: "When a local leader or elected official asks a railroad about the safety status of a railroad bridge, they deserve a timely and transparent response.
"I urge you to engage more directly with local leaders and provide timely information to assure the community that the bridges in their communities are safe and structurally sound."