Trump Administration Rolls Back Obama-Era Train Regulation


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Jason Hopkins Immigration and politics reporter
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The Trump administration rolled back yet another Obama-era regulation, this time pertaining to special break requirements for trains carrying crude oil.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) announced Monday it was scrapping a mandate that required crude oil trains to phase out traditional air brakes in favor of electronically controlled pneumatic (ECP) brakes by 2021. The original mandate, established by the Obama administration in 2015, was intended to increase the safety of trains carrying crude oil by helping to prevent derailments.

After conducting a cost-benefit examination of the brake provision, the PHMSA found that the juice wasn’t worth the squeeze.

“The Department’s action is based on a Congressional requirement to conduct an updated Regulatory Impact Analysis (RIA). The Department’s analysis shows that the expected costs of requiring ECP brakes would be significantly higher than the expected benefits of the requirement,” PHMSA wrote in a statement. “This regulatory change does not affect the ability of a railroad to implement ECP brakes.” (RELATED: Trump Rolls Back Obama-Era Methane Rule)

The heart of the debate revolves around how effective adopting electronically controlled pneumatic (ECP) brakes would be in preventing a train derailment. Trains currently operate using traditional air brakes, a system that takes several seconds to bring an entire train to a complete stop. Implementing electronically controlled pneumatic (ECP) brakes — where each car contains an individual braking control and receives a signal simultaneously — would shave off a few seconds in the halting process.

The railroad industry estimated it would cost over $3 billion to comply with the Obama-era mandate.

The debate over train safety comes as the U.S. — which is experiencing a shale oil boom — is transporting fuel around the country at record levels. The increased train activity has resulted in a higher number of accidents. Around 20 ethanol and crude oil train derailments resulted in spills and fires since 2010.

However, Monday’s regulation rollback still allows companies the option to install the new braking system if they so choose.

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