AAR, Unions Spar Over Brake Inspection Waiver

The railroad industry is pushing the Federal Railroad Administration to allow unit freight trains to travel up to 2,600 miles between air brake inspections.

FRABut the proposal being pushed by the Association of American Railroads is being resisted by the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen.

The AAR wants the FRA grant a waiver so railroads can check if wheel temperature detectors can replace a mandatory visual inspection.

The pilot program would be undertaken on the Union Pacific on coal trains operating between the Powder River Basin of Wyoming and an unloading terminal in White Bluff, Arkansas.

Under current federal law, the air brakes on a unit train must be inspected every 1,500 miles.

Wheel detectors measure temperature of the entire wheel and railroad industry officials argue that an abnormal wheel temperature reading is a more accurate measurement of whether the braking system is working.

They note that a visual inspection does not take temperature into consideration. Railroad hot box detectors measure the temperature of the wheel’s journal.

AAR contends that relying on wheel temperature detectors will increase employee safety.

The BLET, though, counters that using wheel temperature detectors to replace visual brake
inspections is a poor use of the technology.

“BLET believes [temperature detectors] should be deployed in the field and utilized for their intended use of examining wheel temperature in between terminals. [Detectors] should not, however, be used as a pretext for dodging regulatory safety standards,” said Vincent G. Verna, BLET’s regulatory affairs director.

The Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Union, Transportation Division officials are also asking the FRA to deny the AAR’s request.

The FRA will be taking comments on the AAR proposal through Oct. 13. A decision is not expected for several months after that.

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