National Transportation Safety Board Announces Cause of East Palestine Train Derailment


The National Transportation Safety Board has released its preliminary report regarding what caused a Norfolk Southern train to derail in East Palestine, Ohio, earlier this month.

On Feb. 3, one of the company’s trains carrying toxic chemicals went off the tracks in the eastern Ohio community.

The situation created an ongoing ecological disaster, which was mostly ignored by the national media and the White House for more than a week.

Wildlife in the area has been affected, and residents of East Palestine have expressed concerns about air quality.

Families in the area have reported rashes and have been informed by the EPA to avoid drinking water from ground wells.

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According to a report released by the NTSB on Thursday, an overheated wheel bearing is being blamed for the disaster.

“NTSB investigators have identified and examined the rail car that initiated the derailment. Surveillance video from a residence showed what appears to be a wheel bearing in the final stage of overheat failure moments before the derailment,” investigators said.

“The wheelset from the suspected railcar has been collected as evidence for metallurgical examination. The suspected overheated wheel bearing has been collected and will be examined by engineers from the NTSB Materials Laboratory in Washington, D.C.”

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The wheel bearing suspected of overheating rose from a temperature of “38°F above ambient temperature” to a temperature of “103°F above ambient” as it passed three monitors designed to alert crews of such conditions.

The train’s crew was notified by an automated system to stop the locomotive and inspect the car with the overheated bearing.

Per the report, the crew did so, but by the time the train was stopped, cars carrying chemicals, such as vinyl chloride, had already left the tracks.

“After the train stopped, the crew observed fire and smoke and notified the Cleveland East dispatcher of a possible derailment,” the NTSB said.

The report continued, “Responders arrived at the derailment site and began response efforts.”

Efforts to put out existing fires were not successful over the following two days, and so a decision was made to start a controlled burn of the vinyl chloride.

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“On February 5, responders mitigated the fire, but five derailed DOT-105 specification tank cars … carrying 115,580 gallons of vinyl chloride continued to concern authorities because the temperature inside one tank car was still rising,” the report stated.

“This increase in temperature suggested that the vinyl chloride was undergoing a polymerization reaction, which could pose an explosion hazard,” the NTSB stated. “Responders scheduled a controlled venting of the five vinyl chloride tank cars to release and burn the vinyl chloride, expanded the evacuation zone to a 1-mile by 2-mile area, and dug ditches to contain released vinyl chloride liquid while it vaporized and burned.”

The NTSB said its investigation into the disaster is “ongoing.”

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Johnathan Jones has worked as a reporter, an editor, and producer in radio, television and digital media.
Johnathan "Kipp" Jones has worked as an editor and producer in radio and television. He is a proud husband and father.