January 2, 2019: U.S. Miscalculated Benefit of Better Train Brakes

The Department of Transportation has acknowledged that President Trump’s administration miscalculated the potential benefits of having better brakes on trains that are transporting explosive fuels when it made the decision to scrap the Obama-era rule citing concerns over cost.
Under the Obama administration, DOT determined the electronic brakes would cost up to $664 million over a 20 year period and would save between $470 million and $1.1 billion from accidents that would be avoided. Under the Trump administration, the range of benefits was reduced to between $131-$374 million. DOT Economists said the change was prompted in part by the reduction in oil traffic.
The Associated Press was reviewing federal documents when the error was discovered. According to AP, the government analysis that was used to justify the cancellation of the rule omitted as much as $117 million in estimated damages from future derailments that potentially could have been avoided by using electric brakes because the analysis left out the most common type of derailment where spilled and burning fuel causes property damage but not mass casualties.
Bobby Fraser, a spokesman for DOT, said “This was an unintentional error. With the correction, in all scenarios costs still outweigh benefits.” Mr. Fraser believes the decision rendered in September to cancel the electronic brake requirements would not have changed because of the cost.
Supporters of the brakes rule feel that in light of the miscalculation and concerns that other benefits may not have been considered the issue should be reconsidered. Oregon Senator, Jeff Merkley, said: “The omission of $117 million from the rule’s anticipated benefits is further proof that the Trump administration is willing to cut corners to put industry profits ahead of the American people’s safety.”  Senator Merkley is calling for “a new cost-benefit analysis that is full and transparent.”
Robert Duff, a senior adviser to Washington Governor Jay Inslee, agrees that the issue should be reconsidered and feels that there are additional benefits that may have also been ignored – including reducing the frequency of runaway trains and the severity of train on train collisions. “This is not a theoretical risk. We’ve actually seen these derailments.”
Steven Ditmeyer, a rail safety expert and former senior official at the Federal Railroad Administration, stated “These ECP brakes are very important for oil trains. It makes a great deal of sense: All the brakes get applied immediately, and there would be fewer cars in the pileup.”
John Risch, national legislative director for International Association of Sheet metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers said “It flies in the face of earlier, much more comprehensive studies,” Risch said. “We are using a 120-year-old technology with mechanical brakes. They’ve come to the peak of what you can do with them.”

US miscalculated benefit of better train brakes