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Rail News: BNSF Railway

BNSF marks first revenue-service coal train equipped with electronically controlled pneumatic brakes

A second Class I is operating revenue-service coal trains equipped with electronically controlled pneumatic (ECP) brakes. Last week, BNSF Railway Co.'s first ECP-equipped revenue-service coal train headed out of the Powder River Basin and made its way on a 1,500-mile trip toward Southern Co.'s Birmingham, Ala., power generating plant.

Last year, BNSF and Norfolk Southern Railway received Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) waivers to begin installing ECP brakes and demonstrating the technology. ECP brakes send out electronic signals to simultaneously apply and release brakes throughout the length of a train. Conventional brake systems typically apply each car's brakes individually as air pressure moves in a series from car to car.

BNSF is equipping 12 locomotives with ECP brakes supplied by New York Air Brake Corp.; Southern Co. is equipping 300 cars with Wabtec Corp.'s ECP-4200 equipment. The ECP-equipped locomotives and cars will make up two 135-car train sets, which BNSF will use to assess the performance of current-generation ECP brakes. The Class I previously operated ECP-equipped taconite trains in revenue service from the mid-1990s until 2002.

"Through the operation of these trains, we look forward to gaining additional experience with the deployment of ECP brakes," said BNSF Executive Vice President and Chief Operations Officer Carl Ice in a prepared statement.

In October, NS began operating its first ECP-equipped revenue-service coal train in Pennsylvania. A month earlier, the FRA issued waivers to NS and BNSF, enabling the railroads to operate ECP-equipped trains at distances up to 3,500 miles — more than double the current maximum distance — with fewer stops for routine brake inspections.

The waivers require the Class Is to clearly define a process for rectifying brake problems discovered en route, ensure ECP brake inspections are only performed by qualified mechanical inspectors and provide appropriate training to crew members.

ECP brakes provide better train control and fuel savings, require shorter stopping distances and lower the risk of derailments, according to the FRA.

"We expect that these brakes can make rail operations safer and provide business benefits, as well," said FRA Administrator Joseph Boardman.

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More News from 1/28/2008