On April 12, 2019, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) granted the BNSF Railway (BNSF) a test waiver to conduct a pilot program on the carrier’s Southern Transcon trains between Chicago, IL, and California to “demonstrate that the use of wheel temperature detectors to prove brake health effectiveness (BHE) will improve safety, reduce risks to employees, and provide cost savings to the industry.” Over the past six (6) months, BNSF has tested more than 600 trains in the pilot program and believes that the testing has been a success. Accordingly, BNSF has requested FRA approval of two (2) expansion initiatives which were each reviewed and approved by the test waiver committee: (1) the addition of additional origin/destination Southern Transcon locations; and (2) expansion to the BNSF Northern Intermodal route through Havre, MT.
The Brotherhood Railway Carman (BRC) has filed comments opposing BNSF’s petition to expand the pilot program. Among other things, BRC specifically complained to FRA that the collection of data is in its infancy stages and that the pilot program is still lacking crucial data to establish that trains can actually operate the entire route while maintaining a 95 percent effective braking system. In fact, data has not been collected to study the BHE between the Belen, NM test equipment and the destination of the designated trains. Even if it was, the data BNSF has presented proves the trains only have a 52 to 56 percent pass rate to maintain 95 percent effective brake systems at mid route, not the entire route. Without further data that includes information from origination to destination, the current data fails to prove trains can complete the routes with a 95 percent effective braking system.
“The parameters of this program are still being determined and requests for more data collection are still being made,” says BRC General President Rich Johnson. “If the expansion of the pilot program is permitted at this point in time, the message sent would be that FRA supports a 50 to 60 percent safety achievement record for the rail industry; such an outcome is not conducive to FRA’s mission to ensure the safe travel of freight trains throughout the U.S.”
Click here to read BRC’s comments