GAO: FRA brake tests 'lacked transparency'

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WASHINGTON — U.S. Government Accountability Office officials say that Federal Railroad Administration tests on electronic braking in freight cars "lacked transparency."

In a report released on Wednesday, the GAO, an oversight agency of the federal government, issued a report that disagrees with FRA's call for mandatory electronically controlled pneumatic brakes on certain freight cars in the United States.

The oversight agency says FRA and railroads approached computer analyses of the projected benefits of installing electronic brakes using different methods and assumptions. FRA modeling "lacked transparency as the information published may not be sufficient to enable an independent third party to replicate it," report writers found.

The office says it recommends that the U.S. Department of Transportation and FRA "acknowledge uncertainty in its revised economic analysis of ECP brakes, collect data from railroads on their use of ECP brakes, and publish additional information about ECP brake modeling..."

Electronically controlled pneumatic brakes are brakes installed on freight cars, often in unit trains, which depend on electronic signals to set or apply air brakes rather than a difference in brake pipe air pressure. Both apply brake shoes to wheel treads because of pressure applied from compressed-air reservoirs.

FRA officials have said for years that electronic brakes are essential to quicker stopping times and improved safety. Class I railroads strongly disagree, saying that FRA lacks scientific evidence of improved safety.

In a media release soon after the accountability office report was made public, the Association of American Railroads praised the report and called on FRA to rescind its rules on electronic brakes.

The full report is available online.
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