On January 15, 2021, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) issued an extensive Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) entitled “Amendments to Brake System Safety Standards Governing Operations Using Electronic Air Brake Slip System.” More specifically, FRA proposes to amend its brake system safety standards to address operations using an electronic air brake slip (eABS) system, which is a system that tracks details related to individual freight car brake tests. The proposed rule would provide an alternative regulatory framework for railroads to utilize when choosing to use an eABS system, but would not require railroads to use such a system. The NPRM proposes to extend the distance certain individual rail cars may travel (from 1,500 to 2,500 miles) without stopping for brake and mechanical tests, if the cars have a valid eABS record. The NPRM also proposes to allow railroads to add or remove multiple cars from a train without conducting additional brake tests, if the train is solely made up of cars with eABS records.
The Brotherhood Railway Carman (BRC) joined with four (4) other rail unions to oppose the NPRM. Among other things, the unions argued against the proposed changes for the following reasons:
- that the current regulatory framework already contemplates that an electronic record may be used as an alternative to a paper slip;
- that the changes would lead to decreased safety by having fewer brake inspections, fewer timely discoveries of defects and other problems, and by allowing the risks associated with brake system degradation to actually increase across the national rail network; and
- that following through with a Final Rule would only deliver yet another financial windfall to rail carriers by eliminating inspections, testing and repairs, and deferring routine maintenance.
“Inspections, testing and maintenance of rail equipment are all critical components to the safety of both railroad workers and the general public,” says BRC General President Rich Johnson. “Having an eABS system that provides accurate and timely information is fine, but, a new or different notification system that uses information technology cannot justify reducing the frequency of inspections and repairs to train brakes in the field; such changes will almost certainly reduce the overall safety of trains operating across the country.”
Click here to see the joint comments filed by rail labor: