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3/30/2007



Rail News: Rail Industry Trends

BNSF, NS obtain FRA waiver to begin testing ECP brake systems



With a Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) waiver in hand and the promise of better braking system in mind, BNSF Railway Co. and Norfolk Southern Railway are set to begin testing electronically controlled pneumatic (ECP) brakes.

Designed to shorten train stopping distances and reduce derailments, ECP brakes apply uniformly, not sequentially, on every rail car throughout a train. The system gradually applies and releases the brakes to improve train control, and can perform continual electronic self-diagnostic brake checks to identify maintenance needs.

Issued by the FRA earlier this week, the waiver enables BNSF and NS to install ECP brakes on locomotives and freight cars to demonstrate the technology’s safety and efficiency in revenue service.

BNSF plans to test ECP brakes on its intermodal fleet, especially trains moving international traffic to and from San Pedro Bay, Calif., ports. The Class I also is pursing a partnership with a major coal customer to integrate the technology on a long-distance coal route.

“By leveraging our past experience with this technology, BNSF looks forward to building on this foundation to allow further implementation of ECP into our intermodal and coal shipments,” said BNSF Vice President of Transportation Dave Dealy in a prepared statement.

NS plans to equip 30 locomotives and 400 rapid-discharge coal cars with ECP brakes later this year and use the equipment for dedicated coal train service.

“Our tests will help determine how the technology performs in a real-world environment and will indicate whether it will be practical to one day make it commonplace across the entire U.S. rail industry,” said NS VP of Operations Planning and Support Gerhard Thelen.

The FRA placed several conditions on the waivers that require the Class Is to clearly define a process for handling brake problems discovered en route, ensure ECP brake inspections are performed by qualified individuals and provide appropriate training to crew members.

“It is time for the railroad industry to embrace new train braking technology and prevent some of the accidents that are happening now,” said FRA Administrator Joseph Boardman, adding that the FRA is considering whether to issue a proposed rule later this year to facilitate the widespread deployment of ECP brakes.


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