EAST PALESTINE, Ohio — The crew of a freight prepare that derailed in Ohio this month obtained an alert about an overheated wheel bearing solely shortly earlier than dozens of the prepare’s automobiles left the tracks, federal investigators mentioned on Thursday, elevating questions in regards to the adequacy of security measures utilized by the prepare’s operator.
An preliminary report from the Nationwide Transportation Security Board discovered that whereas the wheel bearing had been heating up because the prepare carried poisonous chemical substances and different cargo by way of Ohio, an alarm didn’t sound to alert the crew to verify a sizzling axle till the prepare handed a sensor not removed from the place it finally derailed. The sensor registered that the wheel bearing was 253 levels above the ambient temperature, the report mentioned.
The crew, already braking because the prepare adopted one other, slowed down much more after listening to the alarm, in line with the security board. The crew then noticed fireplace and smoke and reported a doable derailment to the dispatcher. Thirty-eight of the prepare’s 149 automobiles ended up leaving the tracks.
The timing of when the crew was alerted to the overheated wheel bearing is a key query within the federal investigation into the derailment on the outskirts of East Palestine on Feb. 3. When the prepare handed two earlier sensors, it didn’t register a temperature excessive sufficient to set off an alarm below the parameters set by prepare’s operator, Norfolk Southern, in line with the security board.
“This was one hundred pc preventable,” Jennifer L. Homendy, the board’s chairwoman, mentioned at a information convention in Washington. “We name issues accidents; there isn’t a accident. Each single occasion that we examine is preventable.”
The preliminary report was launched on Thursday as Pete Buttigieg, the transportation secretary, visited East Palestine to view the wreckage and pledge ongoing assist to the neighborhood. Mr. Buttigieg and different authorities officers have confronted criticism over what some residents and lawmakers have seen as a delayed response, and he acknowledged that he ought to have spoken out sooner.
“I used to be taking pains to respect the position that I’ve and the position that I don’t have, however that ought to not have stopped me from weighing in about how I felt about what was taking place to this neighborhood,” Mr. Buttigieg mentioned after strolling by way of the mud of the derailment website. The go to got here a day after former President Donald J. Trump visited East Palestine, close to the border with Pennsylvania, and criticized the Biden administration for its response.
Karine Jean-Pierre, the White Home press secretary, mentioned on Thursday that Mr. Biden had been in contact with the governors of Ohio and Pennsylvania and was glad with the federal response. She cited the presence of a number of federal companies in East Palestine when pressed about why Mr. Biden had not visited.
The president is “staying up to date on what is happening on the bottom but additionally appreciative of the work that his multi-agencies have been doing over the previous a number of weeks,” Ms. Jean-Pierre mentioned.
For the reason that prepare derailed and officers agreed to burn off a few of its hazardous cargo to keep away from the specter of an explosion, state and federal environmental officers have emphasised that preliminary checks have discovered the water and air to be protected and haven’t proven important quantities of poisonous chemical substances.
On Tuesday, the Environmental Safety Company ordered Norfolk Southern to take duty for cleansing up the contamination in addition to paying for it. The workplace of Gov. Mike DeWine of Ohio mentioned that removing of contaminated soil started on Thursday, with almost 5,000 cubic yards of soil excavated. However residents have continued to report an array of lingering signs, together with complications and rashes, and have questioned whether or not it is going to be protected to proceed residing within the space over the long run.
In a press release, Norfolk Southern mentioned that it and the rail trade wanted “to study as a lot as we are able to from this occasion.”
“Norfolk Southern will develop practices and put money into applied sciences that would assist forestall an incident like this sooner or later,” the corporate mentioned. “We may even work with the house owners of the rail automobiles on the integrity and security of the gear we use.”
Ms. Homendy burdened that the security board had not but drawn conclusions about what brought on the derailment, however she provided extra element in regards to the sequence of occasions that led as much as it. She additionally mentioned that the three individuals on board the prepare — a locomotive engineer, a conductor and a trainee — had not carried out something unsuitable.
The preliminary fireplace was attributable to the mixture of the heated axle and plastic pellets within the automobile, she mentioned. 5 of the derailed automobiles had been carrying about 116,000 gallons of vinyl chloride, a colorless, flammable fuel. The fireplace melted the plastic placards on the prepare automobiles which might be meant to inform emergency responders in regards to the automobiles’ contents, she mentioned.
The security board’s investigation into the derailment and its aftermath is anticipated to take a minimum of one other 12 months, and it’ll embody what Ms. Homendy described as an investigative subject listening to in East Palestine this spring.
The security board plans to look at the wheel bearing that overheated; the response to the derailment and the choice to burn off a few of the prepare’s poisonous cargo; how rail automobile inspections work below Norfolk Southern; and the corporate’s use of sensors alongside rail tracks.
Ms. Homendy acknowledged that lots of the board’s eventual suggestions would require coverage motion. It’s unclear whether or not a divided Congress would have the ability to come collectively to cross laws with regards to rail security.
“Typically our suggestions usually are not applied,” she mentioned, after rattling by way of a sequence of statistics about prepare derailments. “That’s irritating. In the event that they had been, these numbers I learn you’d be a lot decrease.”
Aishvarya Kavi and Zolan Kanno-Youngs contributed reporting from Washington.