U.S. DOT drops requirement for braking system on crude rail cars

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The U.S. Department of Transportation has reversed a decision requiring crude oil rail tank cars to be fitted with an advanced breaking system designed to prevent fiery derailments.

The requirement to install so-called electronically controlled pneumatic (ECP) brakes was included in a package of safety reforms unveiled by the Obama administration in 2015 in response to a series of deadly derailments that grew out of the U.S. shale boom.

There have been at least 17 significant ethanol or crude derailments since 2006, according to government data.

The oil and rail industry criticized the move at the time, arguing the costs to install the brakes are prohibitive and the technology is not conclusively proven to be more effective.

Supporters of the brake system said they would reduce stopping distances and reduce dangerous pile ups. The breaks are being phased in on passenger trains, such as Amtrak.

Congress in 2015 required the U.S. Department of Transportation to investigate the requirement. Studies by the National Academy of Sciences and other government groups determined the braking system did not dramatically outperform existing systems and was not worth the cost, the DOT announced on Monday.

Critics applauded the move.

“While we support the use of improved safety technologies, ECP isn’t an improvement on other technologies currently in use, and would have imposed substantial costs to shippers,” Chet Thompson, head of the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufactures, said in a statement on Tuesday.

The new rules also require shippers to use thicker, safer rail cars when shipping crude oil and ethanol.

Reporting By Jarrett Renshaw; editing by Grant McCool