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BNSF, BRC Seek FRA Waiver Extension for Brake Health Program

Written by

Marybeth Luczak
, Executive Editor

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BNSF on June 20 reported that is partnering with the Brotherhood Railway Carmen Division (BRC) to request a test waiver expansion from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) for its Brake Health Effectiveness Program.

The Class I railroad said the program uses “a safety technology that measures the temperature of car wheels as the train passes through detectors where the wheels are analyzed to ensure the braking systems are operating properly.” That technology is said to assist BRC inspectors “by focusing their inspection and repair efforts on specific cars, which helps make the inspection process more effective. If no defects are found, the train will continue to its destination.” BNSF said it implemented the technology four years ago on intermodal and grain cars through an FRA test waiver, and now, “after seeing the positive results of the original program,” seeks to expand the FRA test waiver.

BNSF executives described the program in April 2022 as evaluating the effectiveness of thermal detector technology for monitoring brake health. “With thermal detector technology, we can gather more data about the health of brakes on a moving train than can be collected from a visual inspection,” BNSF Executive Vice President and Chief Operations Officer Matt Igoe said at that time. “It’s another part of the way BNSF continues to push the operation to be safer, more reliable, and more efficient for our customers.” BNSF explained that shifting to a technology-driven, conditions-based approach allows resources to be focused on cars that the railroad knows need repairs and improves overall brake health in the fleet; additionally, because the detectors work in any weather condition, the railroad can minimize the amount of time carmen are out inspecting in inclement weather or poor walking conditions. The railroad reported in 2022 that detectors were effective in identifying braking issues and teams were executing repairs against those, and that it had seen a decline in failures and service interruptions.

“We’re proud to partner with BRC to develop and implement technology that drives a safe and efficient rail network,” BNSF Vice President, Mechanical Keith Solomons said during the June 20 waiver extension announcement. “Embracing technological developments like BHE [Brake Health Effectiveness] not only creates a safer network, but ultimately allows us to grow the railroad together which is in the best interest of all of us.”

Added BRC General President Donald Grissom: “The BRC and BNSF are working together to support the expansion of a technology that has a positive impact on rail safety and train braking performance.”

BNSF reported that it is also collaborating with BRC “on future technologies, specifically machine vision that has the potential to drive additional safety gains for car inspectors and serve as a tool to make inspections more effective.” It noted that it “continually looks for opportunities such as BHE to partner with all of our union employees to advance safety and service through technology.”

In a related development, BNSF in April announced that it will grant individual paid sick days to its railroaders who are BRC members.

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