Government regulators: ECP brakes no longer cost effective

Safety agencies' review broadly agrees with Transportation Research Board findings, but does not cite them
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Tank cars moving crude oil in West Virginia.
Chase Gunnoe
WASHINGTON — The Pipeline and Hazardout Materials Safety Administration and the Federal Railroad Administration have published a new regulatory impact analysis that may bring down the curtain on the debate about electronically controlled pneumatic brakes.

The analysis concludes that the brakes are not as cost-beneficial as they were in 2015, when the FRA published a rule requiring ECP brakes on certain tank car trains carrying flammable liquids. The agency advocated the brakes as a way of reducing the effects of tank car derailments and punctures that led to disastrous fires.

A principal reason for the agencies' change of heart is the rapid decline in the number of tank cars carrying crude oil on the rails. Fewer tank car trains means fewer chances for disaster, so the industry would derive less benefit from the estimated $427.3 million to $524.8 million it would take to outfit the tank car fleet with ECP brakes.

According to data from the Association of American Railroads, some 47 million tons of crude oil were shipped by rail in 2014, compared with 20 million in 2016.

The analysis also notes that “railroads have been proactive in re-evaluating their track inspection frequency along crude oil routes and have increased the frequency of their automated track inspection program and rail integrity inspections on such routes.”

The PHMSA-FRA report does not cite a Transportation Research Board study of ECP brakes that was released on Oct. 5. The research board committee said that it was “inconclusive” whether or not an emergency application of ECP brakes stopped a train more effectively than conventional air brakes would, when applied simultaneously from the head and rear ends of a train. The agencies state that TRB's results were not available when the analysis was being drafted.

When the FRA's ECP brake rule was published in May 2015, it was vigorously opposed by the railroad industry. The industry argued that applying the brakes before the rule's deadline was not feasible, and that FRA's data were flawed. In December 2015, the Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act included a provision requiring the Government Accountability Office review the FRA's findings. The accountability office's report resulted in the year-long TRB study.

The revised analysis is open for comments until Nov. 1. However, the FAST Act requires Secretary Elaine Chao to decide to adopt the FRA's findings or scrap the rule by Dec. 1.

Comments may be filed online.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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