Trump administration rolls back rule requiring new oil train brakes

The Trump administration is rolling back an Obama-era regulation requiring new brake systems on oil trains.

A 2015 federal rule required trains carrying oil to have electronically controlled pneumonic brakes by 2021.

The railroad and oil industries fought the change as expensive and unnecessary, pointing to a National Academy of Sciences report that could "not make a conclusive statement" about the performance of the new brakes compared to other systems.

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"It's more evidence that the Trump administration is willing to put the benefits of industry ahead of the benefits of communities," said Eric de Place, of the Sightline Institute.

De Place studies oil trains and said more sophisticated brakes would mitigate disasters.

"The braking system came into place because oil trains are so manifestly dangerous. Many of them have derailed and exploded," de Place said.

In 2013, a runaway oil train in Quebec killed 47 people.

In 2016, an oil train derailed in Mosier, Oregon, sending flames into the sky.

Richard Anderson, executive director of Northwest Railway Museum, explained how brake systems on trains work by pointing to a 1915 passenger coach.

Anderson said the air brakes were a little antiquated compared to what's seen on modern trains, but the idea is the same.

Air is held in reservoirs in each car and when the pressure is reduced, through a valve or unintended uncoupling, the air brakes come on.

"The same concept that was developed by George Westinghouse back in the 1880s," Anderson said.

Anderson said that electronically controlled pneumonic brakes "theoretically allow the brakes to apply just a little bit faster" on a long train.

A spokesman for Burlington Northern Santa Fe, the major rail operator in the Puget Sound region, pointed to a statement from the Association of American Railroads praising the repeal decision:

"Following a thorough, independent, evidence-based evaluation of ECP brake systems, there was only one possible conclusion: The ECP brake mandate was not justified and must be repealed."

BNSF said oil train traffic has been down in the past 10 months.

According to the Washington State Department of Ecology, which started tracking oil train shipments in 2016, said 13.7 million barrels were transported by rail in Washington in the third quarter of 2017, and about 14 million barrels were reported in fourth quarter of 2016.

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