The «preventable» and «traumatic» derailment of a train carrying hazardous chemicals in Ohio dates back to a overheated wheel bearingthat it was 253 degrees hotter than the air temperature, officials with the National Transportation Safety Board said Thursday.
the ntsb published a preliminary report offering clues as to what likely caused the 150-car Norfolk Southern Railway train to crash in eastern Palestine, just west of the Pennsylvania state line, on February 3.
“I am so sorry for the traumatic event you are going through. It’s devastating,” NTSB President Jennifer Homendy said during a press conference, speaking directly to residents of East Palestine.
«I can tell you this: This was 100% preventable. We call things accidents. There are no accidents. Every event we investigate is preventable. So our hearts go out to you,» he added.
According to the NTSB report, a defect detector built into the railroad transmitted an alarm message to the train crew after recording that the temperature of a wheel bearing in car 23 was 253 degrees Fahrenheit above the temperature atmosphere.
Any temperature between 170 and 200 degrees requires the engineer to stop the train, per Norfolk Southern policies.
The engineer slammed on the brakes, but before the train came to a complete stop, carriage 23 derailed, dragging others with it, and an automatic emergency brake was activated.
After that, «the crew observed fire and smoke and notified the Cleveland East dispatcher of a possible derailment,» the report says.
The train was headed from Madison, Illinois, to Conway, Pennsylvania, and the earlier detector it had passed along the way registered a temperature of 103 degrees above ambient, which Norfolk Southern protocol deems not dangerous enough. how to stop
NTSB officials said there are no signs of a runway defect or crew error.
«We have no evidence that the crew did anything wrong. During this deceleration, the wheel bearing failed.» Homendy said.
But the reasons why the bearing broke will be a focal point of the ongoing investigation, he added.
«You can’t wait until they fail,» Homendy said. «Issues need to be identified early so something catastrophic like this doesn’t happen again.»
The final report is expected to take 12-18 months to complete.
Norfolk Southern could not immediately be reached for comment on the initial findings.
The NTSB report also described why Norfolk Southern chose to do a controlled burn of a chemical, vinyl chloride, days after the derailment. The temperature inside a tank car carrying the liquid was rising, according to the report, suggesting that the chemical was undergoing a reaction that increased the risk of explosion.
In all, the train transported 115,580 gallons of vinyl chloride, a highly flammable carcinogen used to produce polyvinyl chloride (PVC) for packaging materials and other products.
During the controlled release, rescue workers dug trenches to contain the liquid as it vaporized and burned.
The East Palestinian city has been gripped by fear and anxiety since the derailment and subsequent fire.
The NTSB announced Thursday that it will hold an investigative field hearing there in the spring.
«The NTSB has one goal, and that is security and making sure this never happens again,» Homendy said. «We don’t have investigative hearings often. It’s rare. But we will question invited witnesses.»
The board’s full investigation «will focus on the wheelset and bearing; the tank car design and derailment damage; a review of the accident response, including venting and burning the vinyl chloride; the design of the wagon and maintenance procedures and practices NS [Norfolk Southern] use of track defect detectors; and NS railcar inspection practices,» the report says.
A union representing rail workers said Wednesday that, from their perspective, Norfolk Southern has prioritized speed, through a system called «precision programmed rail» that aims to keep trains moving, over safety.
“In some ways, ‘We tried to warn you,’ it just isn’t enough,” the Transportation Communications Union said in a statement.
«Railways are also increasingly relying on automatic trackside detectors to replace, rather than supplement, human inspections,» the statement continued. «Railroads have sought waiver after waiver to allow in-person inspections to be replaced by automated temperature detectors.»
Since the derailment, Ohio state officials have reported many thousands of dead fish in nearby streams. some local residents Norfolk Southern has been sued.
On Tuesday, the Environmental Protection Agency ordered the rail company to identify and clean up the contaminated soil and water. On Wednesday, the company said it would temporarily remove the tracks and excavate the soil below, rather than simply remediate the soil as originally planned.
Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro said his office has made a criminal referral for the derailment, while Ohio officials said they may also take legal action against the company.
Norfolk Southern has always highlighted the scope of its cleanup efforts, as well as the funding it has committed to the East Palestine area, including $3.4 million in financial assistance for local families and a $1 million community assistance fund.
“We recognize that we have a responsibility and are committed to doing the right thing for the residents of East Palestine,” the company said in a released statement. to a website believe.
«We will learn from this terrible accident and work with regulators and elected officials to improve rail safety,» he added.
The website cites EPA data from air and water samples, which indicate that concentrations of hazardous chemicals are below the agency’s safety thresholds.
But environmental activist Erin Brockovich said it could be many years before the full impact of the derailment is felt.
“Don’t sign anything for Norfolk Southern Railroad. They are not your friends,” Brockovich told MSNBC on Thursday from East Palestine. “We can consider that at this moment the municipal water is safe. But that’s not the way it’s going to be tomorrow. These chemicals are going to mitigate through the system for decades.”