NewsEast Palestine Train Derailment


NTSB releases final report on East Palestine train derailment

Posted at 9:25 AM, Jun 25, 2024

The NTSB released its final report on the Feb. 2023 Norfolk Southern East Palestine train derailment.

Watch the full hearing:

NTSB releases final report on East Palestine train derailment

NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy said some may downplay what happened because no one died as a result of the derailment.

"The absence of fatality or injury does not mean the presence of safety," Homendy said.

Michael Graham, a board member who was on the scene after the derailment, said the NTSB’s work would not end after it makes recommendations to prevent future derailments.

“We will continue to pursue and advocate for these safety recommendations until each one is implemented,” he said.

Dozens of freight cars derailed Feb. 3, 2023, on the outskirts of East Palestine near the Pennsylvania border, including 11 carrying hazardous materials. Residents evacuated as fears grew about a potential explosion. Despite potential health effects, officials then intentionally released and burned toxic vinyl chloride from five railcars, sending flames and plumes of black smoke into the air.

The NTSB said early on that an overheated bearing on one of the railcars that was not caught in time by trackside sensors likely caused the crash. Investigative hearings have since highlighted other possible contributors, including widespread rail job cuts and rushed inspections. Investigators also delved into why officials chose to deliberately blow open the vinyl chloride cars and burn what is a key ingredient for making PVC pipes.

On Tuesday, NTSB board members confirmed that a trackside detector in Salem, Ohio, failed to accurately detect the overheated rail car bearing that was on fire some 20 miles before the train derailment.

“How does a bearing that was on fire only read 103 degrees Fahrenheit over the Salem hot bearing detector," asked NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy.

They further said that firefighters didn’t get the details of what was on the train for more than an hour after the derailment.

“I’m a Mom, we have 18 year old, 17 year olds that are volunteer firefighters, they need to be protected," Homendy said.

Board members said there are no standards for how railroads should respond to bearing failure alarms. The NTSB staff said they would recommend that the Federal Railroad Administration establish rules governing railroad responses to the alarms. Though NTSB recommendations aren't binding, Congress may be willing to enforce some of them because of the spotlight cast on rail safety by the crash.

In March, new information from a U.S. Senate committee revealed the controlled burn may not have been necessary after the toxic train derailment in East Palestine last year.

NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy said the fire chief and Governor Mike DeWine were given incomplete information. They had 13 minutes to make a decision.

Chemical burn in East Palestine derailment could have been avoided

RELATED: NTSB Chair testifies incomplete information given for vent and burn decision after East Palestine derailment

According to the EPA, vinyl chloride is highly flammable and is mostly used to make polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic and vinyl products. Short-term exposure to the chemical can cause dizziness, drowsiness and headaches. Long-term exposure can result in liver damage and cancer concerns, the EPA said.

An interim report by the National Transportation Safety Board indicated that a hotbox detector found the temperature of one of the train's wheel bearings was 253 degrees above the ambient temperature. Anything above 200 degrees is considered critical.

The NTSB is an independent panel, charged only with investigating and making recommendations that are non-binding. That’s why Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg told News 5 the ball is back in the hands of Congress and the bi-partisan Railway Safety legislation put forth by Ohio Senators Brown and Vance.

“My hope is that as this NTSB report comes out the last excuse falls away for some of these Members of Congress who I think should have acted a year ago, who said oh well we can’t really do anything until the report comes out. The report comes out this week, let’s get that bill done," said Buttigieg.

Senator Brown for his part said in a statement that
“today, the NTSB made crystal clear what we have been saying for over a year – stronger rail safety regulations are needed immediately.  Congress needs to pass the Railway Safety Act to enact stronger safety rules and hold the big railroad companies accountable."

Senator JD Vance saying in a statement “the findings shared by NTSB Chair Homendy today confirm many of my worst fears,” said Senator Vance. “The derailment and subsequent chemical explosion were preventable tragedies resulting from a series of errors made by Norfolk Southern and its contractors.

"The NTSB findings also call the Biden Department of Justice’s premature settlement into serious question. Had they waited for these findings to be revealed, they could have secured more for the people of East Palestine. Finally, these findings underscore the need for Congress to pass the Railway Safety Act, which would go a long way to improve our rail safety standards and prevent future disasters like what happened in East Palestine," said Vance.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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