FRA: Nation’s First Freight Train Equipped with New, Safer Brake Technology Begins Operations

WASHINGTON — The first train fully equipped with electronically controlled pneumatic (ECP) brake technology began hauling coal today in southwestern Pennsylvania under a waiver approved by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), announced Administrator Joseph H. Boardman.

Norfolk Southern Railway is the first railroad to operate revenue service trains equipped with ECP brakes under the waiver, Boardman said. BNSF Railway also received waiver approval and is expected to operate trains with the new, safer brake technology before the end of 2007.

“These railroads understand using ECP brake technology can bring significant safety and business benefits, and I encourage other railroads to follow their lead,” Boardman said.

In contrast to conventional air brake systems, which operate sequentially from one rail car to the next, ECP technology applies the brakes uniformly and instantaneously on every rail car in a train, Boardman explained. ECP brakes lead to better train control, shorter stopping distances and a lower risk of derailments.

The FRA waiver allows NS and BNSF trains equipped with ECP brakes to safely travel up to 3,500 miles — more than double the current maximum distance — with fewer stops for routine brake inspections than currently required by federal regulations, Boardman stated.

Since ECP brake technology provides continual electronic self-diagnostic system checks that inform train crews when maintenance is required, the need to stop for routine brake tests becomes unnecessary, he said. And, in September, FRA issued a proposed rule based on the provisions of the waiver designed to further promote the deployment of ECP brakes on more trains.

Boardman said that an intermodal container train equipped with ECP brakes originating from a West Coast port could operate all the way to Chicago without stopping, except for refueling and crew changes. Similarly, ECP brake-equipped coal trains are expected to make quicker deliveries from western coal fields to eastern and southern power plants because stopping for routine brake tests would be unnecessary.

To further ensure the safety of ECP-equipped trains, the waiver and proposed rule include several conditions such as requirements that the railroad clearly define a process for rectifying brake problems discovered en route; ensuring that ECP brake inspections are only performed by qualified mechanical inspectors; and providing appropriate training to train crew members.

— Special to News Wire