Big News in Trains: Brake Mandate Reversed by PHMSA

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) reversed an Obama-era mandate today. The mandate had required trains that carried flammable material to upgrade to electronically controlled brakes. The PHMSA stated that the benefit does not match the cost of the upgrades.

The railroad industry put the cost of the upgrades at $3 billion, although the Obama-era Federal Railroad Administration put the cost at $500 million.

In the U.S. there have been about 20 major derailments involving oil or ethanol since 2010.

Read Fortune’s coverage here.

Read the PHMSA statement here.

Sept. 26 Update:

The ruling has come under heavy criticism from environmental groups. In addition, the governors of Washington and Oregon released a joint statement:

Govs. Jay Inslee and Kate Brown are blasting the Trump Administration’s actions to roll back rules that improve oil train safety. The Obama Administration’s 2015 administrative rule requires trains carrying highly explosive liquids to have electronically controlled pneumatic brakes installed by 2021.

“The Trump Administration is taking a reckless and dangerous step by caving to corporate special interests and undoing one of the few new safety rules we won,” Inslee said. “The new rules were based on sound fact and science, and they are crucial to protecting our communities against high-hazard oil trains rolling through the Columbia River Gorge and our states. Whatever this administration chooses to believe about our energy future and need to protect our environment, this is about the safety of millions of Washingtonians and Oregonians.”

“Safety shouldn’t be up for political debate,” Gov. Brown said. “Oregonians know firsthand the critical importance of rail safety, and we expect the federal government to do all it can to put in place standards that protect communities and prevent dangerous accidents. I call on federal policy makers use reliable data and best practices to put in place the strongest rail safety measures for all trains traveling through Oregon and Washington.”

The shipment of oil by rail in Washington state increased from zero in 2011 to 2.3 billion gallons per year in 2017. An oil train derailment in Lac-Megantic, Quebec in 2013 killed 47 people. According to the Federal Railroad Administration, electronic brakes would have reduced the severity of the derailment in Mosier, Oregon in June last year, an accident that could have been much worse.

However, it is not yet clear if the backlash is sufficient to cause the PHMSA to reconsider the ruling.


Ben Nussbaum
Ben Nussbaum

Ben Nussbaum, Chief Content Officer of The Brake Report, has more than 20 years experience in publishing. He was the founding editor for USA Today's line of special interest magazines and the founding editor for i5 Publishing's newsstand one-off magazine program. He lives outside Washington, D.C. Email him at [email protected].