DOT formally rescinds ECP brake rule

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Tank cars moving crude oil in West Virginia.
Chase Gunnoe
WASHINGTON — The Department of Transportation late on Dec. 4 made it official, and rescinded a rule that tank trains carrying flammable commodities must be equipped with electronically controlled pneumatic brakes.

The decision seemed inevitable after the Federal Railroad and Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety administrations reported in mid-October that the added safety benefits of equipping tank cars with the high-tech brakes did not justify the added costs. A principal reason was the significant decline in the volume of crude and ethanol being transported by rail between 2014, when the rule was proposed, and 2016.

In addition, a year-long study by the Transportation Research Board said that a comparison between the effectiveness of electronic and conventional pneumatic brakes was “inconclusive.”

The transportation department’s decision brought a swift response from the Senate Commerce Committee. The committee called for a Government Accountability Office study of the braking system in the Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act in 2015. The GAO found flaws in the FRA's methodology, which led to the TRB study.

“Repealing this rule puts sound science and careful study … over flawed guesswork the department used in 2015,” U.S. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., said in a written statement.

“While new technologies offer potential improvement to railroad safety, regulators have a responsibility to fairly evaluate effectiveness and avoid arbitrarily mandating new requirements,” Thune says. “I applaud the department’s new leadership for reacting appropriately to the findings of independent experts and fixing a mistake.”
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