More Info Emerges on NS Derailment Cause

National Transportation Safety Board investigators are saying an overheated wheel bearing may have triggered a derailment of a Norfolk Southern manifest freight in East Palestine on Feb. 3 that resulted in a massive fire and forced the evacuation of hundreds of residents for a few days.

During a news briefing an agency official said it has seen video evidence of a wheel bearing in the final stage of overheat failure moments before the derailment occurred at 8:54 p.m.

Railway Age reported on its website that it learned from sources it did not identify that a combination of factors likely triggered the derailment.

As a wheel bearing began to overheat, this caused an axle failure that occurred a few moments after the train passed a hotbox detector that alerted the crew to a problem with its train.

The report said an earlier hotbox detector has reported no defects. The overheating of the wheel bearing began after the train passed that detector, located in Salem.

Although the locomotive engineer applied the train’s brakes after being alerted of a defect by a detector in East Palestine, the axle by then had already failed and the derailment had begun.

The crew of the train, which was en route to Conway Yard near Pittsburgh, was not harmed by the derailment, which occurred on Track 1.

NTSB investigators have concluded that 38 cars derailed of which fire damaged 12. Of the derailed cars, 10 carried hazardous material.

Another 10 cars of the 150-car train also contained hazardous materials. Five cars of the train carried vinyl chloride.

In a related development, NS has established a $1 million fund to aid East Palestine in its recovery efforts.

The Class 1 railroad said in a news release it will work with state and local leaders on distributing the funds.

NS CEO Alan Shaw said his company expected to make further charitable donations in East Palestine.

The fund announced this week will supplement other efforts by the railroad including providing $1.2 million in financial assistance to nearly 900 families and businesses to cover costs they incurred during the evacuation.

Among the latter are costs of lodging, travel, food, clothing and other related items.

Other donations include more than 100 air purifiers for residential use and air purifiers for municipal building. NS is funding cleaning and air monitoring at East Palestine schools.

A service advisory sent to shippers on Tuesday said both mainlines on the Fort Wayne Line through East Palestine had been restored to operation on Feb. 7.

The advisory said NS continues to work through a backlog of traffic and getting locomotive and operating personnel back into their normal cycles.

NS cited security concerns for backing out of participating in a town hall meeting that was held Wednesday in East Palestine concerning the aftermath of the derailment.

NS cited “a growing physical threat” for pulling out of participating in the meeting.

News reports indicated that the meeting format would not feature speakers, but tables with officials from various agencies who would speak to those attending about their concerns.

NS said it would continue to answer questions and provide information via a telephone hotline it has set up and through its community assistance center.

One news report indicated that railroad and local officials feared that the town hall meeting could be disrupted by “outside parties.”

The NS statement acknowledged that many in East Palestine “are rightfully angry and frustrated right now.”

On Tuesday Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said he was told by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio that the train that derailed was not properly classified and therefore NS was not required to provide any notification of the materials being carried.

“Frankly, if this was true, and I’m told it’s true, this is absurd,” DeWine said. “…  Congress needs to take a look at how these things are handled. We should know when we have trains carrying hazardous material that are going through the state of Ohio.”

DeWine said he would urge Congress to require railroad to provide notification when they are transporting hazardous materials through states.

During the news conference DeWine said he had been assured by NS CEO Shaw that NS will remain at the derailment site until everything was cleaned up.

 “We’ve got an attorney general that will file a lawsuit,” DeWine said in reference to NS shirking its duties in the cleanup efforts.

“They’re responsible for this. They did it. The impact on this community is huge — not just physical problem that might be caused, but the inconvenience, the terror.”

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One Response to “More Info Emerges on NS Derailment Cause”

  1. pwwoodring Says:

    Defect detectors are not perfect, they miss some defects and give false positive readings as well, and also can get which axle is hot wrong, which is why the rules require the conductor to check axles 5 cars either side of a reported defect. It is entirely possible the previous defect detector missed the beginning of the failure of that wheel bearing. As long as human beings create things, accidents will happen. It’s the response to those human failings that really matters, and NS needs to step up and take care of those people no matter how much it hurts.

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