NTSB Releases Preliminary Report into Ohio Train Derailment

February 23, 2023

The National Transportation Safety Board on Thursday released a preliminary report into the February 3 train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio that sparked a fire and a miles-wide toxic chemical spill.

“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 read in part. “The wheel bearing and affected wheelset have been collected as evidence and will be examined by the NTSB.”

NTSB Chairwoman Jennifer Homendy and the NTSB’s Director of the Office of Railroad, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Robert J. Hall were set to hold a news conference Thursday afternoon in Washington to detail the agency’s initial findings. 

Last week, the NTSB had stated that trough video surveillance it had examined a train car with “what appears to be a wheel bearing in the final stage of overheat failure moments before the derailment.”

In Thursday’s report, the agency noted that the wheel bearing had passed three sensors prior to the train’s derailment. With each passing, the temperature had risen higher—with the third sensor reporting the temperature at 253 degrees. 

At that point, audible alarms went off, instructing the crew to stop. In the process of stopping the train, its automatic emergency braking kicked in and the train made a full stop. 

While the preliminary report does not outline a definitive cause for the train’s derailment, the NTSB’s focus will now be on rail car 23 and that wheel bearing.

A total of 38 cars had derailed in the crash, according to the NTSB, 11 of which contained hazardous materials. Five of those cars contained vinyl chloride, a flammable gas that the EPA has stated, if inhaled, it “has been shown to increase the risk of a rare form of liver cancer in humans.” There are also other potential effects from exposure to it.

The report’s release coincided with a visit to the train crash site by Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

During his visit, Buttigieg met with federal investigators who, according to the Secretary’s office, were on the ground in East Palestine hours after the train derailed. Buttigieg also planned to meet with emergency responders and take reporters’ questions later in the day.

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