WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. rail industry is pushing the White House to drop a requirement that oil trains adopt an advanced braking system, a cornerstone of a national safety plan that will soon govern shipments of crude across the country.
Representatives of large rail operators met with White House officials last week to argue against the need for electronically controlled pneumatic brakes, or ECP brakes, saying they “would not have significant safety benefits” and “would be extremely costly,” according to a handout from the meeting.
ECP brakes trigger all axles simultaneously rather than one at a time in current design.
More than a dozen industry representatives made their case at the Washington meeting last Friday, a day after a crude oil train derailed in Illinois.
Reuters reported last month that the national oil train safety plan now under review at the White House Office of Management and Budget would require the advanced braking system.
The Transportation Department has concluded that ECP braking would deliver meaningful safety improvements but the industry officials argued that the department estimates “grossly overstate benefits and understate costs.”
The industry claims fitting rail stock with ECP brakes would not prevent accidents, but merely limit the number of cars that derail in an accident.
Adopting the new technology would lead to more frequent service problems and mechanical delays, industry officials said.
The oil train safety plan being considered by the White House would also demand tougher tank cars and other safety steps that the government estimates would cost at least $3 billion over the next 20 years.
A draft of new oil train safety requirements made public in July warned that tougher standards were needed to avoid accidents potentially causing billions of dollars in damages.
“Given the safety challenge we have right now, shame on us if we fail to embrace new technologies,” said Joe Szabo, former chief of the Federal Railroad Administration.
Two days before the rail industry meeting, White House staff met with representatives from Exxon Mobile Corp, Tesoro Corp and the main trade group for the refining industry.
No agenda for the meeting was made public.
Oil and rail executives contend that much higher costs would needlessly hinder a sector that has helped push a national energy renaissance.
Reporting By Valerie Volcovici and Patrick Rucker; Editing by Tom Brown