WASHINGTON – Calling it the most significant development in railroad brake technology since the 1870s, Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph H. Boardman announced his intention to propose revised federal rail safety regulations to facilitate the installation of Electronically Controlled Pneumatic (ECP) brake systems capable of preventing derailments and shortening train-stopping distances.
“ECP brakes are to trains what anti-lock brakes are to automobiles—they provide better control,” Boardman said. “It offers a quantum improvement in rail safety,” he added.
ECP brakes are applied uniformly and virtually instantaneously on every rail car throughout the train, rather than sequentially from one rail car to the next as is done with current air brake technology, Boardman explained. The system provides improved train control when braking and can reduce stopping distances up to 60 percent, he said.
Boardman said the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) intends to issue a notice of proposed rulemaking next year to revise the federal brake system safety standards to encourage railroads to invest in and deploy ECP brake technology. In order to achieve the safety benefits as soon as possible, FRA is open to considering plans from railroads interested in using ECP brakes before the proposed rule changes are completed, he said.
In 2005, 14 percent of train accidents on main line track caused by human error involved improper train handling or misuse of the automatic braking system. ECP brakes would give locomotive engineers better control over their trains and prevent many potential accidents.
In addition, current problems such as derailments caused by sudden emergency brake applications, and runaway trains caused by loss of brake air pressure, could be eliminated using ECP brakes. Also, the technology can perform an electronic health check of the brakes to identify maintenance needs.
Boardman also said the deployment of ECP brakes supports the U.S. Department of Transportation’s new National Strategy to Reduce Congestion on America’s Transportation Network. Better brakes mean longer trains can move more freight faster and safer to help reduce congestion on America’s rail system, he said.
A new report on the benefits of ECP brakes can be found at www.fra.dot.gov/us/content/1713.