DOT rescinds ECP brake system requirements for HHFUT rail cars

By Erin Voegele | October 12, 2018

Recent action taken by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration and U.S. Department of Transportation has repealed a portion of a 2015 rulemaking that would have required certain trains carrying flammable liquids, including ethanol and crude oil, to be equipped with electronically controlled pneumatic (ECP) brake systems.

In May 2015, PHMSA and the Federal Railroad Administration published the final rule “Hazardous Materials: Enhanced Tank Car Standards and Operational Controls for High-Hazard Flammable Trains,” also referred to as the HM-251 final rule.

According to the PHMSA, many provisions of HM-251, including those pertaining to advanced brake systems, aimed to improve tank car safety in anticipation of increased crude oil shipments by rail, which began in 2008. The rule required all tank cars in high-hazard flammable unit trains (HHFUTs) operating under certain conditions to be equipped with ECP brake systems.

In December 2015, President Barack Obama signed the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act of 2015 (FAST Act) into law. A portion of that law required the study and testing of ECP brake systems, focusing on requirements that were promulgated under the HM-251 rule. The FAST Act also required the DOT to incorporate the results of the Government Accountability Office’s evaluations and the testing of ECP brake systems by the National Academy of Sciences into an updated regulatory impact analysis of the ECP brake system requirements, and to solicit public comment on the updated regulatory impact analysis. Under the FAST Act, within two years of the mandate, the DOE was required to determine, based on the updated regulatory impact analysis, whether the ECP brake system requirements in in the HM-251 rule were justified.

As a result of that process, the DOT has determined that the expected benefits, including safety benefits, of implementing the ECP brake system requirements do not exceed the associated costs of equipping tank cars with ECP brake systems. Therefore, the requirements are not economically justified. As a result, PHMSA has issued a final rule to remove the ECP brake system requirements from the hazardous materials regulations.

A full copy of the final rule can be downloaded on the Federal Register website.