Derailments have plagued trains since their invention, sometimes driving change. This past week, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg responded to the Feb. 3
derailment and toxic spill in East Palestine, Ohio, with calls for reforms: higher train staffing levels, safer tank cars, bigger fines—and a plan to deploy electronically controlled pneumatic brakes, or ECP.
We’ve been here before. In 1869, a Pennsylvania engineer named George Westinghouse invented the air brake, which allowed engineers to more quickly slow or halt trains from a locomotive, not car by car, using compressed air. He started a company, Westinghouse Air Brake, whose successor merged with GE Locomotive in 2019 to become Westinghouse Air Brake Technologies, or
a mini-conglomerate of train technologies, including ECP.