Debate over ECP Brakes Reducing Impact of Derailment

EAST PALESTINE, Ohio – An investigative reporter for WTAE Channel 7 of Pittsburgh quoted a former Federal Railroad Administration official as claiming inclusion of the electronically controlled pneumatic (ECP)  brakes on the train might have reduced the massive derailment.

The station’s website post quoted Steven Ditmeyer, the former head of research and associate administrator at the FRA, saying this about what ECP brakes might have meant: “There would not have been that huge pile up of cars coming from the rear that piled and caused ruptures and fires. So, yes, there is a very high likelihood that there would be significantly less damage.”

The train was not mandated to have ECP brakes as it did not fall under federal regulations having to do with transporting hazardous liquids (the toxic materials were a gas on this Norfolk Southern freight.

In a post on the American Journal of Transportation website quoted NTSB Chairwoman Jennifer Homendy’s recent tweet thread, “ECP would not have been in place for the train involved in this incident.

“Additionally, several U.S. railroads have engaged in extensive real-world tests of ECP brakes and found that the failure rate for of ECP systems is significant and the repair time is much too long to make them practical  . . . Additionally, independent, evidence-based evaluation of ECP brake systems were unable to make conclusive findings on ECP emergency brake performance relative to other braking systems on the basis of the results provided by DOT’s modeling of train derailment scenarios.

Early indications are overheated wheel bearings were the genesis of the Feb. 3rd derailment of the 51 cars (of the 150-car train) near this Ohio community.

Ian Jeffries, president of the American Association of Railroads, issued a statement on the event which included, “The NTSB’s independent investigators continue their work to identify the accident’s root cause and contributing factors. That investigation must continue unimpeded by politics and speculation so NTSB’s findings can guide what additional measures may have prevented this accident.

“All stakeholders – railroads along with federal, state and local officials – must work to restore the public’s trust in the safety and security of our communities. We can only do that by letting the facts drive the post-accident response. At this time, the focus must be on the most pressing issue at hand – ensuring the community of East Palestine has all the support they need as it moves forward.”

According to reports, the federal Department of Transportation said it plans to implement tougher safety regulations for railroads, including electronic brakes.

Mike Geylin
Mike Geylin

Mike Geylin is the Editor-in-Chief at Hagman Media. Geylin has been in automotive communications for five decades working in all aspects of the industry from OEM to supplier to motorsports as well as reporting for both newspapers and magazines on the industry.