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NTSB Chair: East Palestine train derailment was ‘100% preventable’

Train Derailment Ohio-Railroad Safety
Posted at 9:21 AM, Feb 23, 2023

The National Transportation Safety Board released its initial findings Thursday on what caused a Norfolk Southern train to derail on Feb. 3 in East Palestine, Ohio.

In its initial report, the NTSB said the train was traveling at 47 mph, which is below its authorized limit of 50 mph. As it traveled, it passed through hot bearing detectors, which detect the train's bearing temperature.

About 30 miles from the site of the derailment, a temperature of 34 degrees above ambient temperature was recorded. Ten miles out, that temperature increased to 103 degrees. Near the derailment's location, that temperature was up to 253 degrees above the ambient temperature.

According to the NTSB, Norfolk Southern established the following alarm thresholds (above ambient temperature) and criteria for bearings:

  • ​Between 170°F and 200°F, warm bearing (non-critical); stop and inspect
  • A difference between bearings on the same axle greater than or equal to 115°F (non-critical); stop and inspect
  • Greater than 200°F (critical); set out railcar

When conductors noticed the temperature of 253 degrees, they stopped the train and notified dispatchers of a possible derailment.

NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy said the board will hold a rare investigative field hearing in East Palestine.

“This was 100% preventable,” Homendy said Thursday afternoon. "We call things 'accidents,' there is no accident. Every single event that we investigate is preventable. So our hearts are with you. Know that the NTSB has one goal, and that is safety and ensuring that his never happens again.”

A full report recapping the derailment could take months.

The train was carrying many hazardous materials, including vinyl chloride. Two days after the derailment, state of Ohio officials ordered the town to evacuate as chemicals were burned to prevent an explosion.

The chemical release caused a plume to shoot miles into the sky, prompting environmental concerns.

Although officials say the air is safe, lingering concerns remain over the long-term impacts after vinyl chloride and other chemicals were released into the atmosphere.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said the water is safe to drink but that the state would continue to conduct additional testing. He said residents are most concerned about the long-term effects of the derailment.

“We will continue to do what needs to be done in the weeks and the months and years as we go forward," he said.