AP (NEW)

Train crew had little warning before Ohio wreck, probe finds

Feb 23, 2023, 11:30 AM | Updated: 6:20 pm

ohio trail derailment...

FILE - In this photo taken with a drone, portions of a Norfolk Southern freight train that derailed the previous night in East Palestine, Ohio, remain on fire at mid-day on Feb. 4, 2023. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg announced a package of reforms to improve safety Tuesday, Feb. 21 — two days after he warned the railroad responsible for the derailment, Norfolk Southern, to fulfill its promises to clean up the mess just outside East Palestine, and help the town recover. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)

EAST PALESTINE, Ohio (AP) — The crew operating a freight train that derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, didn’t get much warning before dozens of cars went off the tracks, and there is no indication that crew members did anything wrong, federal investigators said Thursday as they released a preliminary report into the fiery wreck that prompted a toxic chemical release and an evacuation.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg made his first visit to the crash site and took shots at former President Donald Trump, who had visited the day before and criticized the federal response to the train derailment. Their back-and-forth was the latest sign that the East Palestine wreck has become a hot-button political issue, prompting a rebuke from the head of the National Transportation Safety Board.

“Enough with the politics. I don’t understand why this has gotten so political,” safety board Chair Jennifer Homendy, clearly exasperated, said at a briefing in Washington, D.C., on Thursday. “This is a community that is suffering. This is not about politics. This is about addressing their needs, their concerns.”

The NTSB report, which laid out the facts that investigators have gathered to date, said crew members had no indication the train was in trouble until an alarm sounded just before it went off the tracks.

An engineer slowed and stopped the train after getting a “critical audible alarm message” that signaled an overheated axle, according to the report. The three-person crew then saw fire and smoke and alerted dispatch, the report said.

“We have no evidence that the crew did anything wrong,” said Homendy, who announced a rare investigatory field hearing to be conducted in East Palestine this spring as officials seek to get to the bottom of the derailment’s cause and build consensus on how to prevent similar wrecks.

Investigators said the temperature of the failed wheel bearing increased by 215 degrees in a span of 30 miles (48 kilometers), but did not reach the temperature threshold that railroad company Norfolk Southern had set for an alarm to go off until just before the wreck.

The train was going about 47 mph (75 kph), under the speed limit of 50 mph (80 kph), according to investigators.

Outside experts who looked at the report said the system appeared to work as designed, from the spacing of the hot bearing detectors along the tracks to the operation of the sensors.

“There’s nothing in the NTSB report that surprises me at all,” said Dave Clarke, the former director of the Center for Transportation Research at the University of Tennessee. “I can’t see anything to really criticize about what happened or how the response was made.”

Christopher Barkan, director of the Rail Transportation and Engineering Center at the University of Illinois, said the spacing of the sensors that recorded the temperatures of the Norfolk Southern train — 10 and 20 miles (16 to 32 kilometers) apart — is common in the industry.

He said the detectors would not have notified the train crew of elevated bearing temperatures unless they met the threshold for action.

“I don’t see anything wrong here, but we just don’t know,” Barkan said.

Homendy said investigators would look at whether industry safety standards — including high-temperature alarm thresholds and sensor spacing — will need to change to prevent similar derailments.

Norfolk Southern said the NTSB report showed the heat detectors worked as intended and the train crew operated “within the company’s rules.” Nevertheless, the company said it would “need to learn as much as we can from this event” and “develop practices and invest in technologies that could help prevent an incident like this in the future.”

The freight cars that derailed on the East Palestine outskirts, near the Pennsylvania state line, included 11 carrying hazardous materials. Villagers evacuated as fears grew about a potential explosion of smoldering wreckage.

Officials seeking to avoid an uncontrolled blast intentionally released and burned toxic vinyl chloride from five rail cars, sending flames and black smoke into the sky. That left people questioning the potential health effects even as authorities maintained they were doing their best to protect people.

In another sign of the environmental impact, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources said Thursday it now estimates spilled contaminants affecting several miles of streams killed nearly 44,000 fish, mostly small ones such as minnows. Its initial estimate was 3,500.

As NTSB released its preliminary findings, Buttigieg — who had been criticized for not coming to East Palestine earlier — went on a tour of the crash site and defended the Biden administration’s response to the Feb. 3 derailment, which Trump had portrayed as indifferent and a “betrayal.”

Buttigieg told reporters that if the former president — and current Republican presidential candidate — felt strongly about increased rail safety efforts, “one thing he could do is express support for reversing the deregulation that happened on his watch.”

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre excoriated “political stunts that we’re seeing from the other side” but did not say whether a trip by Democratic President Joe Biden was in the works.

Another Biden administration official, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan, has been to East Palestine multiple times, most recently Tuesday as the EPA ordered Norfolk Southern to pay for the cleanup.

With heavy equipment rumbling behind him, Buttigieg slammed Norfolk Southern and other freight rail companies for fighting regulations he said would “hold them accountable and the other railroad companies accountable for their safety record.” He pressed Congress to act.

Heather Bable, who lives two blocks from the derailment site, said she’s relieved the government’s top brass is finally showing up.

“We need that attention because we weren’t getting it. They should have been here all along,” said Bable.

After throngs of residents lined the streets in pouring rain to welcome Trump on Wednesday, the reception for Buttigieg was decidedly more muted, with little fanfare around the village of just under 5,000 residents. Trump won nearly 72% of the vote in this heavily Republican region in 2020.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Chris Deluzio, whose Pennsylvania district borders the derailment site, asked Norfolk Southern to expand the boundaries of the geographic zone in which it is providing financial assistance and testing. He asserted the current zone excludes many affected Pennsylvania residents and businesses, and said the company should commit to cleaning up soil and water up to 30 miles (48 kilometers) beyond it.

“Norfolk Southern is failing to show any commitment to rebuilding lost trust in our community,” Deluzio wrote in a letter to Norfolk Southern’s CEO. Providing additional resources “would help your company restore the sense of security that the Norfolk Southern train derailment and its aftermath destroyed.”

___

Rubinkam reported from northeastern Pennsylvania and Mulvihill reported from Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Associated Press reporters Julie Carr Smyth and Patrick Orsagos in Columbus, Ohio, and Chris Megerian and Hope Yen in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

AP (New)

A demonstrator waves Iranian and Palestinian flags during an anti-Israeli gathering at the Felestin...

Associated Press

The Latest | Israel says 99% of drones and missiles launched by Iran were intercepted

Israel is hailing the success of its defenses after an attack by Iran involving hundreds of drones, ballistic missiles and cruise missiles.

11 days ago

Former President Trump shown,, trump hush money trial started Monday...

Associated Press

Trump says Arizona’s abortion ban goes too far while defending the overturning of Roe v. Wade

Former President Trump said Arizona's abortion ban goes too far, but defended the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

15 days ago

Beverly Smith picks produce while grocery shopping at Ream's....

Associated Press

What stores are open on Easter Sunday 2024? See Walmart, Target, Costco hours

Need to make a last-minute trip to the store for more Easter eggs and candy? Make sure you know what stores are open and closed on Easter.

25 days ago

FILE - Joana Vicente attends the 2024 Sundance Film Festival's Opening Night Gala on Jan. 18, 2024,...

Lindsey Bahr AP Film Writer

Joana Vicente steps down as Sundance Institute CEO

Joana Vicente has been announced to be stepping down as the CEO of the Sundance Institute after taking the position two and a half years ago.

1 month ago

The price of chocolate is rising just in time for Easter due to crop damages in West Africa. (Stock...

Damian J. Troise

Rich cocoa prices hitting shoppers with bitter chocolate costs as Easter approaches

Cocoa prices are rising because the chocolate's plant crops have been damaged due to high heat temperatures in West Africa.

1 month ago

St. Patrick's Day is today! To celebrate, learn a little bit about the history, why American's cele...

Deepti Hajela

From 4-leaf clovers to some unexpected history, all you need to know about St. Patrick’s Day

St. Patrick's day is today. To celebrate, read a little about the holiday's history, why American's celebrate it, and who St. Patrick was.

1 month ago

Sponsored Articles

a doctor putting her hand on the chest of her patient...

Intermountain Health

Intermountain nurse-midwives launch new gynecology access clinic

An access clinic launched by Intermountain nurse-midwives provides women with comprehensive gynecology care.

Young couple hugging while a realtor in a suit hands them keys in a new home...

Utah Association of Realtors

Buying a home this spring? Avoid these 5 costly pitfalls

By avoiding these pitfalls when buying a home this spring, you can ensure your investment will be long-lasting and secure.

a person dressed up as a nordic viking in a dragon boat resembling the bear lake monster...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

The Legend of the Bear Lake Monster

The Bear Lake monster has captivated people in the region for centuries, with tales that range from the believable to the bizarre.

...

Live Nation Concerts

All the artists coming to Utah First Credit Union Amphitheatre (formerly USANA Amp) this summer

Summer concerts are more than just entertainment; they’re a celebration of life, love, and connection.

Mother and cute toddler child in a little fancy wooden cottage, reading a book, drinking tea and en...

Visit Bear Lake

How to find the best winter lodging in Bear Lake, Utah

Winter lodging in Bear Lake can be more limited than in the summer, but with some careful planning you can easily book your next winter trip.

Happy family in winter clothing at the ski resort, winter time, watching at mountains in front of t...

Visit Bear Lake

Ski more for less: Affordable ski resorts near Bear Lake, Utah

Plan your perfect ski getaway in Bear Lake this winter, with pristine slopes, affordable tickets, and breathtaking scenery.

Train crew had little warning before Ohio wreck, probe finds