Posts Tagged ‘National Transportation Safety Board’

Preliminary Reports Released on 2 NS Ohio Incidents

March 22, 2023

The National Transportation Board has issued preliminary reports on two incidents involving NS trains in Ohio earlier this month.

Wheelsets of steel coil care are being eyed as the cause of a March 4 derailment of 28 cars near Springfield of train C04.

The agency has placed an investigative hold on wheelsets of the cars involved in the Springfield derailment and other truck component. The hold also includes wheelsets of similar NS cars that were not involved in the derailment.

The wheelsets will be examined at the NS shops in Altoona, Pennsylvania.

Investigators are going to focus on “failure analysis of the subject wheelsets and on industry-wide standards and practices for rail car wheel and axle assembly processes, specifications, and quality control.”

There were no injuries in the Springfield derailment, but some cars took down a power line, causing 47 homes to lose electricity. No hazardous substances were involved in the derailment.

The March 7 incident in Cleveland left an NS conductor dead after his train struck a dump truck at a grade crossing on the grounds of a Cleveland-Cliffs Incorporated steel plant.

NTSB investigators determined the truck and train entered the crossing at the same time. The conductor was riding the train in a shoving move.

The truck was owned by TMS International and was hauling rock. Video taken from a steel company camera showed the truck stopped for the crossing and then began to cross the tracks.

The train was traveling 9 miles per house at the time of the collision. The top speed within the plant is 10 mph. The grade crossing has stop signs but no flashing signals.

NTSB Finds Anomalies With Tank Car Relief Valves Taken From 5 Cars in East Palestine Derailment

March 22, 2023

Investigators found anomalies with the function of some pressure relief devices removed from the five vinyl chloride monomer tank cars involved in the Feb. 3 derailment of a Norfolk Southern train in East Palestine.

The valves regulate the internal pressure of rail tank cars by releasing material when under pressure.

National Transportation Safety Board officials said the defects were found during a review of the valves at a Texas laboratory.

The NTSB finding said the function of some values may have compromised their pressure relieving capability. However, officials said further testing is needed to further investigate that finding.

The investigation at the Texas lab found that  one of the internal springs of one of the values was coated with aluminum, which is not compatible with vinyl chloride.

The NTSB report said that although aluminum debris from melted protective housing covers entered the valve discharge areas, there was no evidence that melted aluminum entered the tank car itself.

Two Agencies to Probe NS Safety Practices

March 8, 2023

Two federal agencies this week said they will investigate the safety practices of Norfolk Southern in the wake of a Feb. 3 derailment in East Palestine that resulted in the spillage of hazardous chemicals, a massive fire, and the forced evacuation of hundreds of residents.

Both agencies cited multiple incidents involving NS trains in announcing their investigations.

The Federal Railroad Administration said it would conduct a 60-day supplemental safety assessment in which it will review findings and recommendations of a 2022 system audit and the railroad’s responses.

Among the matters FRA staff will probe are track, signal, and rolling stock maintenance, inspection, and repair practices; protection for employees working on rail infrastructure, locomotives, and rail cars; communication between transportation departments and mechanical and engineering staff; operation control center procedures and dispatcher training; compliance with federal Hours of Service regulations; evaluating results of operational testing of employees’ execution and comprehension of all applicable operating rules and federal regulations; training and qualification programs available to all railroad employees, including engineer and conductor training and certification; maintenance, inspection, and calibration policies and procedures for wayside defect detectors; procedures related to all wayside defect detector alerts; and measures implemented to prevent employee fatigue, including the development and implementation of fatigue management programs required as part of FRA’s Risk Reduction Program rule;

The agency said it also will review the current status of the hazard and risk analysis required by the Risk Reduction Program rule.

In a statement, FRA officials said it will use its findings to determine specific areas for FRA oversight and enforcement and help “identify risks beyond the reach of current federal regulations.”

The FRA’s findings will be made public and will be used to prod NS into developing measures to address risks and identify enforcement actions.

The National Transportation Safety Board cited five incidents involving NS trains that prompted it to launch its investigation into the Class 1 railroad’s safety practices.

Aside from the East Palestine derailment, the NTSB said in a news release that other incidents involved a Dec. 8, 2021, incident in which a worker for a  contractor working with NS on a track replacement project in Reed, Pennsylvania, was struck and killed.

Also cited was a March 4 derailment in Springfield, Ohio, a conductor killed in an incident in Cleveland, and an October 2022 derailment in Sandusky.

“The NTSB is concerned that several organizational factors may be involved in the accidents, including safety culture,” NTSB officials said in a statement.

 “The NTSB will conduct an in-depth investigation into the safety practices and culture of the company. At the same time, the company should not wait to improve safety and the NTSB urges it to do so immediately.”

In response NS CEO Alan Shaw said his company will hold safety briefings, and work to improve its safety culture.

One of those moves was the announcement earlier this week of a six-point program to upgrade wayside defect detectors.

NTSB Chair Says Derailment was Preventable

February 25, 2023

Although the Feb 3 derailment of a Norfolk Southern train in East Palestine is described as an accident, a federal safety investigator said this week it was preventable.

Speaking at a news conference, Jennifer Homendy, chair of the National Transportation Board, said, “every single event that we investigate is preventable.”

She said the Board doesn’t have field investigative hearings often but will do so in reviewing the East Palestine derailment.

That investigation is expected to take 12 to 18 months. The field hearing is expected to be held this spring and include invited witnesses.

Investigators have said their focus is on a wheelset bearing that overheated and wayside defect detectors that alerted the train crew to the problem before their train derailed.

Homendy said there is no evidence that track defects, operational issues, or the actions of the crew played a role in the derailment.

“We know what derailed the train,” she said, pointing to catastrophic wheel bearing failure.

Various public officials, trade groups and others have turned the East Palestine into an opportunity to advance their policy and political agendas, something that Homendy noted during her remarks.

“Safety is the only thing we care about,” she said. “Politics is left at the door.”

Homendy described East Palestine as a community that is suffering. “This is about addressing their needs, their concerns.”

She said people need to know whether they live or work near a hazmat route so that they can better recognize and respond to an emergency in the event of a toxic release.

In a related development, NS said it would donate $300,000 without condition to the East Palestine schools.

The money is expected to be used to support the district’s academics, athletics, extracurricular activities and its long-term contingency planning regarding the effects of the derailment.

The funding will be divided evenly among the district’s three schools.

NS Inspects all Defect Detectors

February 25, 2023

Norfolk Southern has inspected all of its nearly 1,000 wayside heat detectors in the wake of a derailment in East Palestine that forced hundreds of residents to evacuate their homes because of leakage of hazardous chemicals.

That inspection found all of them were operating as designed, NS said in a statement.

The performance of defect detectors has been a subject of conversation following the derailment, which National Transportation Safety Board investigators say was likely caused by catastrophic wheel bearing failure.

NTSB investigators noted that the temperature of the faulty wheel bearing as measured by detectors had increased over a 30 mile stretch before the train derailed.

By the time a detector in East Palestine gave an alarm directing the crews to stop its train, it was too late to prevent the derailment.

NS claimed in its statement that its detectors trigger an alarm at a temperature among the lowest in the rail industry. The statement noted that all detectors are inspected every 30 days.

“Norfolk Southern will develop practices and invest in technologies that could help prevent an incident like this in the future,” the statement said. “We will also work with the owners of the rail cars on the integrity and safety of the equipment we use.”

A preliminary NTSB report on the Feb. 3 derailment said the bearing on the 32nd car of the eastbound manifest freight that derailed had a recorded temperature of 38 degrees above the ambient temperature when it passed a detector in Sebring.

By the time the train passed a detector in Salem the temperature had increased to 103 degrees above ambient temperature.

A detector in East Palestine showed a temperature 253 degrees above ambient, which triggered the alarm to stop the train.

Although the locomotive engineer began slowing the train, it was too late to prevent the derailment.

Derailed Rail Cars Mostly Now Decontaminated

February 22, 2023

Norfolk Southern said this week that most of the rail cars carrying hazardous materials that derailed on Feb. 3 in East Palestine have been decontaminated.

The cars are still at the derailment site awaiting inspection by investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board. NS said once investigators are done examining the cars they will be moved for disposal.

Workers recently installed pumps to reroute Sulphur Run stream around the derailment site. A dam has been built in the street to protect water downstream from leakage of hazardous substances.

Officials said the portions of the stream most affected by the derailment are being treated with booms, aeration and carbon filtration units.

Workers are collecting soil and groundwater samples that will be used to develop a plan to remove contamination from stream banks and sediment.

NS also said one of its employees who resides in East Palestine has agreed to serve as a liaison between the community and company management.

The employee will oversee a $1 million fund that will be used to help East Palestine residents. The worker will report to the chief of staff for NS CEO Alan Shaw. The position will be in place for a year.

In a related development, U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg urged railroads to take immediate “commonsense” steps to improve accountability and safety.

Buttigieg said railroads should, among other things, phase-in of safer tank cars, known as DOT 117s, and provide rail workers with paid sick leave.

He also called on Congress to increase maximum fines that his agency can levy on railroads for violating safety regulations and for the initiation of a focused safety inspection program on routes over which trains with large amounts of hazardous materials travel.

In response the Association of American Railroads called for allowing the NTSB to complete its investigation into the cause of the derailment and let those facts drive the post-derailment response.

More Info Emerges on NS Derailment Cause

February 16, 2023

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.”

NTSB Identifies Rail Car Suspected of Triggering East Palestine Derailment on NS Fort Wayne Line

February 15, 2023

Aerial view of East Palestine derailment site provided by National Transportation Safety Board

Investigators have identified the rail car that is believed to have triggered a Feb. 3 derailment of a Norfolk Southern train in East Palestine and are focusing on a wheel bearing suspected of overheating.

The National Transportation Safety Board released on Tuesday a revised summary of the derailment that also indicated that just 38 cars of the train derailed of which 11 contained hazardous materials.

Earlier reports had said 50 cars of the 150-car train derailed. The train originated in Madison, Illinois, near St. Louis, and was bound for Conway Yard near Pittsburgh.

The derailment led to a massive fire and the release of hazardous substances. Hundreds of residents were forced from their home for a few days a result.

“Surveillance video from a residence showed what appears to be a wheel bearing in the final stage of overheat failure moments before the derailment,” the NTSB report said.

The wheelset of the suspected rail car will be reviewed by an NTSB lab in Washington as part of a metallurgical examination.

The NTSB report said the agency has obtained locomotive event recorder data, forward- and inward-facing image recording data and wayside defect detector data.

Tanks cars at the derailment site continue to be decontaminated. Once that process is complete, NTSB investigators will return to the derailment site to continue gathering information about the tank cars involved in the crash.

Some components of the derailed tank cars will be examined by a laboratory in Texas.

A preliminary report is expected to be published in two weeks. The latest NTSB findings on the derailment can be read at

In a related development, NS plans to install wells in East Palestine and to test soil samples.

The cleanup of the derailment site thus far has removed 180,000 gallons of oil and water from the area.

Workers also have collected water samples from the city’s drinking water supply, private wells, and surface and storm-sewer water.

NS said in a news release it has conducted 340 in-home air tests with 100 additional tests scheduled. The news release said the railroad has donated donated $220,000 to the East Palestine Fire Department.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources has estimated that 3,500 fish were killed in 7.5 miles of streams as a result of the release of chemicals following the derailment.

Among the waterways with dead fish were Leslie Run, Bull Creek and a portion of the North Fork of Beaver Creek.

As a precautionary measure, a water utility company in Huntington, West Virginia, is undertaking additional steps in water treatment  and preparing to switch to a secondary water source.

West Virginia American Water said it has not seen any change in the raw water it draws from the Ohio River nor has it issued a drinking water advisory for its customers.

New Evacuations Ordered in East Palestine

February 6, 2023

Fearful of additional explosions, officials on Sunday ordered additional evacuations in East Palestine where the derailment of a Norfolk Southern train resulted in a massive fire that continued to burn Sunday night.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine ordered the evacuations in an announcement that noted that a “drastic temperature change” had occurred in a tank car that could lead to an explosion that would send shrapnel flying up to a mile away.

Columbiana County officials also joined in the new evacuation order. East Palestine is located on the Ohio-Pennsylvania border about 50 miles northwest of Pittsburgh.

DeWine ordered Ohio National Guard troops to assist at the derailment scene. Police were going door-to-door to homes within a mile of the derailment site to inform residents of the evacuation order.

Officials said the order affected up to 2,000 and that more than 500 people had refused to leave.

East Palestine Mayor Trent Conaway said one person had been arrested for going around barricades and approaching the crash site on Saturday night.

In the meantime, National Transportation Board investigators have found that the possible cause of the derailment on Friday may have been a defective axle.

NTSB investigator Michael Graham said a video of the train provides “preliminary indications of mechanical issues on one of the railcar axles.” He said that a wayside defect detector had informed the crew of a defect shortly before the derailment.

However, NTSB investigators have been hindered in their exploration of the derailment site by the need to first contain the fire.

NTSB officials have said that it is likely to take four to six weeks before they are able to issue a preliminary report on the derailment.

The derailment occurred just before 9 p.m. Friday when at least 50 cars derailed. The train, the 32N, was en route from Madison, Illinois, near St. Louis to Conway Yard near Pittsburgh had 150 cars.

The crew was able to detach the locomotives from the train after it derailed and move to safety.

Officials have said 10 of the derailed cars carried hazardous materials. Five of those cars contained vinyl chloride, a flammable gas used to make plastic products,

In the wake of the derailment NS has been rerouting traffic around the wreck site with at least one stack train routed over the Southern Tier, and the New York, Susquehanna & Western.

Amtrak cancelled the Capitol Limited on Saturday and Sunday.

NS said it had established a Family Assistance Center “to address the needs of the community and support those directly impacted.”

The railroad also has made a $25,000 donation to the American Red Cross, which is providing services to displaced residents.

A news report said about 75 people visited the NS assistance center on Saturday and another 100 did so on Sunday morning.

NS said the derailed train also was carrying butyl acrylate, a raw material for products such as plastics, paints, and sealants; benzene residue; and other combustible liquids. Non hazardous materials on the manifest included wheat, plastic pellets, malt liquors, and lube oil.

Some chemicals that leaked from the derailment site have been detected in local runoff and streams.

Evacuation Order Remains at NS Derailment Site

February 5, 2023

Residents of East Palestine on Saturday night remained under evacuation and shelter-in-place orders as work continued to extinguish a massive fire triggered by a Norfolk Southern derailment Friday night.

During a Saturday news conference, National Transportation Safety Board member Michael Graham said officials could not estimate when the fire would be contained.

He said NTSB has the image and data recorders from the locomotives of NS Train 32N, which was en route to Conway Yard near Pittsburgh with 150 cars when the derailment occurred.

Graham said that 50 of the train’s cars derailed.

Officials are still seeking a cause for the derailment and said it might take four to six weeks before the safety agency has a preliminary report.

Graham said one freight car released vinyl chloride through a safety release valve.

However, Ohio Environmental Protection Agency officials said they have not detected any harmful levels of the chemical at the derailment site or in the air surrounding it.

The National Cancer Institute describes vinyl chloride as a colorless flammable gas that is associated with a higher risk of some forms of cancer.

“Ohio EPA will remain on site and air monitors will remain in place as long as necessary,” Ohio EPA spokesperson James Lee said in a statement.

The statement also said Ohio EPA officials are working with local officials and NS personnel to “identify the nature and extent” of any possible contamination and will work to ensure cleanup efforts to protect human health and the environment.”

City officials cautioned that although drinking water is safe to consume, it may be discolored because of the amount of water being used to fight the fire.

The train involved in the derailment had more than 100 cars and derailed at 8:55 p.m. Friday on the Fort Wayne Line about 50 miles northwest of Pittsburgh. East Palestine, located on the Ohio-Pennsylvania border, has a population of 4,700.

The train had originated in Madison, Illinois, near St. Louis and traveled via Decatur, Illinois; Lafayette, Indiana, and Cleveland.

Officials said 20 cars contained hazardous material and 10 of those cars derailed. Five of the derailed cars carried vinyl chloride.

“We have not confirmed vinyl chloride has been released other than from the pressure release devices,” the Ohio EPA said.

East Palestine residents displaced by the derailment and fire are being accommodated at two evacuation stations. About 2,000 people were affected by the evacuation order.

One news report said NS was not allowing firefighters into the area because of safety concerns resulting from a lack of knowledge over which cars may be involved in the fire.