Better brakes needed, says FRA
WASHINGTON – Calling it the most significant development in railroad brake technology since the 1870s, Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph H. Boardman said on August 17 his intention to propose revised federal rail safety regulations to facilitate the installation of “Electronically Controlled Pneumatic” (ECP) brake systems capable of preventing derailments and shortening train-stopping distances.
“ECP brakes are to trains what anti-lock brakes are to automobiles—they provide better control,” Boardman said. “It offers a quantum improvement in rail safety,” he added.
ECP brakes are applied uniformly and virtually instantaneously on every rail car throughout the train, rather than sequentially from one rail car to the next as is done with current air brake technology, Boardman explained. The system provides improved train control when braking and can reduce stopping distances up to 60 percent, he said.
The industry organization Association of American Railroads (AAR) was quick to embrace the action.
AAR CEO Edward Hamberger said in Washington on Friday, “We welcome the Federal Railroad Administration's announcement that it intends to revise its regulations in order to facilitate the installation of electronically-controlled pneumatic brakes (ECP). As the FRA points out, there are potential safety benefits from the use of ECP.”
Hamberger added, “A number of U.S. railroads have field tested ECP brakes and the technology has also undergone testing at TTCI, the railroad industry's research and test facility in Pueblo, Colo. In order to utilize this type of braking system the entire train must be equipped with ECP brakes. Class I railroads own fewer than 40 percent of the nation's freight cars, with the majority owned either by shippers or car leasing companies.”
He noted, “We are continuing to participate in an FRA-sponsored study examining the benefits of ECP and look forward to working with FRA, private car owners and freight car manufacturers in developing an implementation plan so those benefits may be realized.”
FRA’s Boardman said the FRA “intends to issue a notice of proposed rulemaking next year to revise the federal brake system safety standards to encourage railroads to invest in and deploy ECP brake technology.” He added, “In order to achieve the safety benefits as soon as possible, FRA is open to considering plans from railroads interested in using ECP brakes before the proposed rule changes are completed.”
In 2005, 14 percent of train accidents on main line track caused by human error involved improper train handling or misuse of the automatic braking system. ECP brakes would give locomotive engineers better control over their trains and prevent many potential accidents.
In addition, current problems such as derailments caused by sudden emergency brake applications, and runaway trains caused by loss of brake air pressure, could be eliminated using ECP brakes. Also, the technology can perform an electronic health check of the brakes to identify maintenance needs.
Boardman also said the deployment of ECP brakes supports the USDOT’s new National Strategy to Reduce Congestion on America’s Transportation Network. Better brakes mean longer trains can move more freight faster and safer to help reduce congestion on America’s rail system.”
A new report on the benefits of ECP brakes can be found at http://www.fra.dot.gov/us/content/1713