The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) is rescinding a 2015 final rule requiring trains carrying crude oil, ethanol and other flammable liquids to be outfitted with electronically controlled pneumatic brakes (ECP brakes), saying it’s unclear whether the perceived safety benefits justified the costs to railroads. The DOT will rescind the ECP mandate finalized by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) in 2015. The DOT determined there wasn’t sufficient justification for mandating expensive ECP brakes on trains.

The DOT said it made the determination after the National Academy of Sciences’ Transportation Research Board, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the FRA conducted studies – on orders from Congress – to more thoroughly examine whether the advanced braking systems truly provided meaningful safety benefits that would justify the amounts railroads would have to spend to install them.

The ECP mandate, which was part of the May 2015 enhanced tank car final rule issued by PHMSA and the FRA, required trains carrying crude oil and operating at speeds of more than 30 mph to be equipped with ECP brakes by 2021, while trains carrying ethanol and operating at more than 30 mph would have until 2023 to have ECP brakes installed.

ECP brakes provide an electronic brake signal instantaneously throughout the train, allowing train cars to brake faster than with conventional air brakes, which were first developed in the late 1800s and are still widely used in the industry today. But on Oct. 16, the DOT agencies published a revised regulatory impact analysis.

The revised analysis was mandated by Congress when it enacted the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act in late 2015. This came after complaints from the rail industry. The October 2016 study, as well as the separate review by the National Academies, raised doubts about the DOT’s methodology for justifying the ECP mandate and gave the industry and its supporters ammunition in their fight to get the provision stricken from the broader tank car rule.

Safety advocates and labor unions have stood behind the ECP mandate and call the repeal a major setback for safety. John Risch, the national legislative policy director for the transportation division of SMART, had this to say:

Clearly the railroad industry’s overwhelming influence over the Trump administration is paying off in repealing the ECP brake rule. ECP brakes are the safest, most advanced braking systems in the world and without some government requirement we will continue to use our current, outdated 150-year-old braking technology for the foreseeable future.

The DOT’s public outreach efforts seeking information on other regulatory hurdles that should be eliminated could put even more freight rail proposals in jeopardy. Freight railroads recently gave the DOT its wish list for rules that should be significantly modified or dropped altogether. Safety should be a top priority for the “railroad bosses,” but it appears profits top their list of priorities by a huge margin. The primary opposition to the requirement has come from these freight railroads, represented by the industry lobbying group Association of American Railroads (AAR). You shouldn’t be surprised to learn that AAR also has been advocating for other DOT rules to be repealed.

The American people must be made aware of how the Trump Administration is doing everything possible to scuttle existing rules and regulations that are safety-related and, in the process, they are making our country much less safe and secure.


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