June 21, 2023

Railway carmen back BNSF request for brake safety technology expansion


BNSF’s mechanical division and the Brotherhood of Railway Carmen (BRC) are working together on a program that seeks to ensure brake health.

BRC is supportive of BNSF’s (NYSE: BRK) efforts to go before the Federal Railroad Administration and ask for the expansion of a test waiver that would enable both parties to continue work on BNSF’s brake health effectiveness (BHE) program, according to a joint news release from both groups Tuesday. The results of the original program — BNSF implemented the technology on intermodal and grain cars through a test waiver for years ago — have been positive, according to the release.

“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,” BRC General President Donald Grissom said in the news release.

The two describe BHE as a safety technology that measures the temperature of car wheels as a train passes through detectors. The analysis by the detectors helps to ensure that the braking systems are operating properly.

BRC inspectors can use the technology to focus their inspection and repairs on specific cars, thus making the inspection process more effective, according to the release. If no defects are found, the train continues to its destination, they said.

“We’re proud to partner with BRC to develop and implement technology that drives a safe and efficient rail network,” said Keith Solomons, vice president of BNSF’s mechanical division. “Embracing technological developments like BHE 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.”

While BNSF awaits FRA’s response on the waiver expansion, the railroad and the union are also collaborating on other technologies that could help make inspections more effective, including machine vision. Machine vision uses cameras and algorithms to help detect defects that might be harder to unearth. 

BNSF’s request to expand the FRA waiver comes as the railroads and the unions have been at odds at times over the balance between the implementation of advanced technologies and workforce needs. Last year, BNSF sought an FRA waiver to expand its use of autonomous track inspections, which was met with pushback from union members.

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