The National Transportation Security Board (NTSB) on Thursday issued an initial report on the Norfolk Southern train carrying toxic chemicals that derailed in East Palestine, sparking a fire and sending contaminants into the air and water.
The report, which is preliminary and subject to change as investigators deepen their probe, suggests that blame for the accident lies in a wheel bearing that severely overheated before the train went off the rails.
The crew operating the freight train did not receive a critical warning about the overheated axle until moments before the derailment, the report states.
After getting a “critical audible alarm message” from the wayside defect detector—or hot bearing detector (HBD)—instructing the crew to stop the train to inspect a hot axle, the engineer slowed and stopped the train.
When the train came to a halt, the crew saw smoke and fire and alerted dispatch of a possible derailment.
The derailed equipment included 11 tank cars carrying flammable toxic chemicals that ignited.
The ensuing blaze damaged another 12 cars that had not derailed.
‘Final Stage of Overheat Failure’
Investigators have examined the 23rd rail car—which was the first to derail—along with railroad equipment and track conditions, signal data, and surveillance camera footage, per the report.
“Surveillance video from a local residence showed what appeared to be a wheel bearing in the final stage of overheat failure moments before the derailment,” the report states.
The wheel bearing and wheelset that was affected have been collected as evidence and are still under examination by NTSB investigators.
Several hot bearing detectors that the train passed through ahead of the derailment tested hotter and hotter and, by the third one, hit 253 degrees above ambient temperature, meeting Norfolk Southern’s established threshold for “critical.”
The first two hot bearing detectors—38 degrees and 103 degrees above ambient temperature respectively—did not meet the threshold for stopping the train for inspection.
Norfolk Southern’s alarm criteria for a “stop and inspect” action are for the hot bearing detector to read between 170 and 200 degrees above ambient temperature.
NTSB released the initial report on Thursday as Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who has faced criticism for failing to visit East Palestine earlier, toured the crash site.
Buttigieg’s visit came nearly three weeks after the Feb. 5 derailment, which prompted an evacuation as fears grew that the smouldering wreckage could explode.
Heather Bable, who lives two blocks from the derailment site, told The Associated Press she’s relieved that senior Biden administration officials are finally showing up.
“We need that attention because we weren’t getting it. They should have been here all along,” Bable told the outlet.
She was among the throngs of residents lining the streets in pouring rain to welcome former President Donald Trump on Wednesday.
Trump met with East Palestine residents and officials, providing bottled water and cleaning supplies.
Ohio Republican Lt. Gov. Jon Husted told CNN ahead of the release of the report that its findings had the potential to form the basis of a criminal referral.
Husted also said Norfolk Southern should temporarily relocate people who continue to feel unsafe, or even consider buying their property.
“This is the railroad’s responsibility, and it’s up to the government officials at the federal, state and local levels to hold them accountable and do right by the citizens of East Palestine,” Husted said.
Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro’s administration has already made a criminal referral of Norfolk Southern to the state attorney general’s office.
Norfolk Southern’s chief executive apologized to East Palestine residents during a CNN town hall event on Wednesday.
“We’re going to do what’s right for the community,” CEO Alan Shaw pledged.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
From The Epoch Times