ECP braking enables an electronic signal in the brake communication network to activate the brake mechanisms throughout the entire train simultaneously. Previously this process occurred mechanically and progressively down the train. ECP improves the ability to achieve higher average speeds and carry heavier loads while still operating within safety limits.

Application relevance

Extensive trials of ECP braking systems have taken place and Australia is now considered a rapid adopter of this technology across its rolling stock. ECP braking realises the most benefits in areas of changing terrain where it would allow higher downhill speeds with increased inertia to reduce power requirements when going up the next hill. Although ECP systems can be retrofitted alongside existing brake systems, there is a much greater focus on introducing ECP braking systems on new rolling stock.

ECP brakes have been available for over 15 years, but the adoption of the technology has been restricted due to the time and cost of retrofitting a fleet of wagons. In 2006, approximately 5000 wagons were equipped with ECP brakes out of over 1.5 million freight wagons in North America. In Australia, wagon manufacturers indicate a very rapid uptake is possible.

Potential benefits

Fuel savings in the range 4–11% can be achieved from improved train handling, reduced wagon braking and lower compressor duty cycles (ECP brakes do not vent brake pipe air during braking, reducing the load on the locomotive compressor). ECP brakes enable the use of longer train length and improve safety.

Key implementation considerations

ECP brakes cost $8000 or more per wagon. A retrofit would require sidelining a large number of wagons from service. The potential to realise benefits will depend on the amount of trains equipped with ECP brakes on each part of the network.

Examples of implementation

Federal Railroad Administration

This final report outlined the ECP brake system for freight service covering the areas of operations, safety, implementation costs and benefits, and implementation alternatives.

Study of the possible energy and operational gain due to use of electro pneumatic valves in Victoria-Mines railroad wagons

This study looks at experience using ECP braking for iron ore transport in Brazil. Significant amounts of technical information are discussed, with diagrams that illustrate the comparisons between previous braking systems and longer trains. Operational performance improvements (reducing braking distance by 30–70%) and financial performance (fuel savings of approximately US$2000 per trip) are quoted.  (de Azevedo et al. 2008).

Australian ECP brake system

This study describes the development of the OzECP braking system and provides useful schematic diagrams of previous technology and updated design. The study is particularly targeted at an Australian audience and identifies the benefits of the OzECP system over other alternatives. It also identifies the reasons for the slow adoption of the technology up until 2006 (Informit 2011a).

Rail achieving growth conference proceedings – freight train braking

This conference paper provides general information to understand the advantages and disadvantages of different freight wagon brake control systems including vacuum brakes, pneumatic brakes, electro-pneumatic and ECP brakes (Informit 2011b).

For the full report on fuel saving opportunities in the road and rail sectors, see Fuel for Thought – Identifying potential energy efficiency opportunities in the Australian road and rail sectors (opens in a new window) PDF 1.5 MB.