DOT repeals ECP brake installation rule leaving people worried

Published: October 5, 2018

The Bellingham Herald reports that last week the Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA) decided to repeal a rule that required electronically controlled pneumatic (ECP) braking systems be installed on all oil trains.

The original rule was intended to increase safety and help prevent the derailment and puncturing of cars. DOT’s original analysis of ECP brakes found that they “can reduce the number of cars in a derailment that puncture and release their contents by almost 20 percent compared to other braking technologies.”

With conventional air brakes, the braking message must go through each car individually before moving on to the next car; this process can take up to two minutes for the brake application to reach the back of a freight train. ECP braking uses electronic controls that applies the brakes to all cars consistently and at the same time, providing more control and shortening the stopping distance, which leads to a lower risk of derailment or coupling breakage.

Washington state Governor Jay Inslee criticized the repeal, saying in a press release that the decision to repeal is a “reckless disregard for the life and property of all who live or work along the rail tracks.”

“I fear the day we witness a destructive or deadly derailment that could have been prevented with readily available technology,” he said.

The PHMSA cited a reduction in benefits to the rail carriers from $254 million in benefits to businesses and $215 to $358 million in savings related to safety when the first analysis of ECP braking was done, down to $131 to $198 million in total benefits, as the reason for their repeal of the rule. PHMSA said the lower estimates stem from a decrease in the amount of oil being transported by rail.

The Association of American Railroad (AAR), an organization representing rail carriers, praised the repeal, while Inslee, environmental groups and unions protest this reduction in safety.

Click here to read the full story from the Bellingham Herald.