Electronically Controlled Pneumatic brakes

Rail Industry Still Fighting Safety Fixes That Would Have Saved Hundreds of Lives

Fatal Philadelphia Amtrak crash in 2015

The latest fatal Amtrak accident in Washington state was another reminder of the the reality of the cost-benefit approach to regulating safety.

When the rail industry and its lobbyists are able to argue against implementing proven safety technology because they don’t want to pay for it — that is, for the sake of higher profits — preventable accidents will continue to happen. 

The Trump Admin’s Misleading Justifications for Repealing This Oil Train Safety Rule

Scrabble board spelling 'deception,' 'donor,'profit,' and 'fail'

On December 4, the Department of Transportation (DOT) announced it would repeal a critical safety regulation for modern braking systems on the same oil trains which have derailed, spilled oil, caught fire, exploded, and even killed dozens in multiple high profile accidents in recent years. 

The regulation, released by the DOT's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration in mid 2015, required that oil trains have modern electronically controlled pneumatic (ECP) braking systems by 2021. However, in the latest iteration of its review process for this rule, the DOT is now doing an about-face.

Senate Working to Strip Braking Safety Requirements From Oil Train Regulations

As documented on DeSmog, the new oil-by-rail regulations contain major concessions to the oil and rail industries as the result of relentless lobbying during the rulemaking process. One logical safety measure that the rail industry failed to block from the new rules was a requirement for modern braking systems know as electronically controlled pneumatic (ECP) brakes.

However, the rail industry has a Plan B to avoid modernizing their braking systems and so far it is working quite well.

White House Meeting Logs: Big Rail Lobbying Against "Bomb Train" Regulations It Publicly Touts

Lynchburg, Virginia Oil Train Explosion

The Obama White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) has held the majority of its meetings on the proposed federal oil-by-rail safety regulations with oil and gas industry lobbyists and representatives.

But OIRA meeting logs reviewed by DeSmogBlog reveal that on June 10, the American Association of Railroads (AAR) and many of its dues-paying members also had a chance to convene with OIRA

Big Rail has talked a big game to the public about its desire for increased safety measures for its trains carrying oil obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in the Bakken Shale. What happens behind closed doors, the meeting logs show, tells another story. 

At the June 12-13 Railway Age Oil-by-Rail Conference, just two days after rail industry representatives met with OIRA, American Association of Railroads President Edward Hamberg, former assistant secretary for governmental affairs at the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), made the case for safety. 

“Railroads believe that federal tank car standards should be raised to ensure crude oil and other flammable liquids are moving in the safest car possible based on the product they are moving,” said Hamberg.

The industry also wants the existing crude oil fleet upgraded through retrofits or older cars to be phased out as quickly as possible.”

Yet despite public declarations along these lines, proactive safety measures were off the table for all four of Big Rail's presentations to OIRA.  

Though private discussions, the documents made public from the meeting show one consistent message from the rail industry: safety costs big bucks. And these are bucks industry is going to fight against having to spend.

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