NTSB Launches Special Investigation into Ohio Derailment

March 8, 2023

The National Transportation Safety Board on Tuesday launched a special investigation into rail owner Norfolk Southern following the February 3 East Palestine, Ohio train derailment that sparked a fire and a miles-wide toxic chemical spill.

In a press release, the NTSB said, “Given the number and significance of recent Norfolk Southern accidents, the NTSB also urges the company to take immediate action today to review and assess its safety practices, with the input of employees and others, and implement necessary changes to improve safety.”

Hundreds of East Palestine townspeople were evacuated after the February 3 train derailed and Norfolk Southern was forced to vent and burn carcinogenic chemicals from crashed rail cars to prevent an explosion.

The 38 cars that derailed were carrying substances that included vinyl chloride, butyl acrylate, ethylene glycol monobutyl ether, ethylhexyl acrylate and isobutylene, all of which are toxic to humans and the environment.

In a preliminary investigation into the cause of the crash, the NTSB reported 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. 

In its Tuesday press release the NTSB points out that since December 2021, at least three Norfolk Southern employees have been killed in various incidents. The agency further said it planned to review an October 8, 2022 derailment in Sandusky, Ohio. 

“The NTSB is concerned that several organizational factors may be involved in the accidents, including safety culture,” the NTSB’s statement goes on. The agency adds that while it’s conducting its investigation, Norfolk Southern “should not wait to improve safety and the NTSB urges it to do so immediately.”

The NTSB’s investigation comes after a mid-February call from a bipartisan group of Senators for a Congressional investigation into the East Palestine crash. Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw is scheduled to testify this Thursday at a hearing of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.

On Tuesday, Shaw said that Norfolk Southern will cooperate with the NTSB’s investigation.

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