a loaded coal train moves at a mine site

BNSF Puts Train with Safer Brake Technology into Operation

BNSF Railway Company on Friday began revenue operation of a coal train that is equipped with electronically controlled pneumatic (ECP) brakes, which use electronic signals to apply and release brakes simultaneously throughout the length of a freight train. (Conventional air brake systems operate sequentially from one rail car to the next, on the other hand.) Advocated by the Federal Railroad Administration, these systems can improve brake system performance and reliability and reduce maintenance requirements and fuel usage, Fort Worth-based BNSF said. The train left the Powder River Basin in Wyoming yesterday on a 1,500-mile trip to Southern Company's Plant Miller, a power plant near Birmingham, Ala.

"The use of ECP brakes will provide the potential for improved safety, faster coal deliveries, fewer rail cars, and reduced maintenance expense; all of which will benefit our customers," said Jeff Wallace, vice president of fuel services for Southern Company. BNSF is equipping 12 locomotives with ECP technology provided by New York Air Brake Corp., and Southern is equipping 300 cars with technology from Wabtec Corp. The locomotives and cars will make up two full 135-car train sets that will be used to assess the performance of the current generation of ECP brakes.

BNSF's 40,000 employees operate a total of 6,300 locomotives moving 220,000 freight cars, on average. Low-sulfur coal moved by this railroad generates move than 10 percent of the electricity produced in the United States, and more than 90 percent of that coal comes from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana.

FRA issued a proposed rule in September 2007 encouraging use of ECP brakes, and Norfolk Southern Railway put the first system into operation in October 2007 on a coal run in Pennsylvania. "We expect that these brakes can make rail operations safer and provide business benefits, as well," said FRA Administrator Joseph Boardman.

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