New US rail brake system may cut chemical spills

11 October 2007 23:53  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS news)--US rail regulators urged operators on Thursday to begin installing new freight car braking systems that are expected to help reduce derailments of toxic chemicals and other hazardous materials cargoes.


The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) said that the first train fully equipped with electronically controlled pneumatic (ECP) brake technology began hauling coal on Thursday in Pennsylvania under the administration’s approval.


Norfolk Southern (NS) is the first railroad to operate ECP-equipped trains, the administration said.  Burlington Northern & Santa Fe (BNSF) railroad is expected to begin running trains with the safer braking systems by the end of this year.


FRA administrator Joseph Boardman said the new braking technology “can bring significant safety and business benefits, and I encourage other railroads to follow suit”.


Administration spokesman Warren Flatau said the agency anticipates that owners of chemical tank cars will equip their rolling stock with the new technology. US chemical manufacturers typically own or lease tank cars that carry their products.


Electronically controlled pneumatic brakes provide better train control, shorter stopping distances and a lower risk of derailments, the administration said.


The new brakes also require fewer inspections, the administration said, meaning that a train equipped with ECP brakes can safely travel up to 3,500 miles with fewer stops for routine brake inspections that the FRA now requires for conventional freight car brakes.


ECP systems apply brakes uniformly and instantaneously on every rail car in a train, the administration said. With conventional freight car brakes, stopping pressure is applied sequentially from one rail car to the next.


According to the administration, in a conventional 150-car train, it could take as long as 3 minutes for braking pressure to be applied to the last car from the moment the train engineer moves the brake handle.


Although relatively rare, rail tank car chemical spills have in recent years caused a number of fatalities, major evacuations and triggered increasing public and legislative concern.  A coalition of US chemical companies, railroad operators and federal rail safety officials are working on a new, more survivable chemical tank car design that is expected in service by 2010.

By: Joe Kamalick
+1 713 525 2653

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