FRA Approves Waiver for New Braking Technology to Improve Train Control and Safety

WASHINGTON — Two railroads will begin equipping and operating trains with new brake technology capable of significantly improving train control, reducing derailments, and shortening stopping distances as a result of a waiver approved by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), Administrator Joseph H. Boardman announced March 29.

“It is time for the railroad industry to embrace new train braking technology and prevent some of the accidents that are happening now,” Boardman said. “Rail safety can be improved and better brakes are part of the solution,” he stressed, noting that the FRA is considering issuing a proposed rule later this year designed to facilitate the widespread deployment of the technology known as Electronically Controlled Pneumatic (ECP) brakes.

Boardman said that ECP brake technology can help avert train derailments caused by sudden emergency brake applications, prevent runaway trains caused by loss of brake air pressure, and shorten train stopping distances up to 60 percent under certain circumstances. ECP brake systems also are capable of performing continual electronic self-diagnostic ‘health checks’ of the brakes to identify maintenance needs, he added.

ECP brakes apply uniformly and virtually instantaneously on every rail car throughout a train and not sequentially from one car to the next as is done with conventional pneumatic brake systems, Boardman explained. The full train brake application, and an ability to gradually apply and release the brakes, provides for vastly improved train control and enhances safety.

Boardman said the waiver request approved by the FRA allows BNSF Railway and Norfolk Southern Railway to install ECP brake systems on trains to demonstrate the safety and efficacy of the technology in revenue service.

Under the waiver, trains equipped with ECP brakes will be able to safely travel up to 3,500 miles without stopping to undergo certain routine brake inspections, more than double the distance currently allowed by federal regulations.

It is expected that the railroads will use the waiver to test ECP brakes on container-only trains from West Coast ports to Chicago and on trains carrying coal from the Powder River Basin fields in Wyoming to southern and eastern power plants.

FRA placed several conditions on the waiver approval, including requirements that the railroads clearly define a process for handling brake problems discovered en route; ensure that ECP brake inspections be performed by qualified individuals; and provide appropriate training to crew members.

The waiver ensures that proper safeguards will be in place and will permit FRA to gather extensive data that could be used in developing its proposed rulemaking. FRA also will carefully monitor the railroad’s compliance with the waiver using unannounced inspections of trains subject to the waiver.

— Special to News Wire