Feds to Hold Hearing on Toxic Ohio Train Derailment

June 22, 2023

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) was set to start taking sworn testimony Thursday into the February 3 train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio that sparked a fire and a miles-wide toxic chemical spill. 

Both the Department of Justice and the state of Ohio have sued rail owner Norfolk Southern over the derailment. 

An investigative hearing by the NTSB was scheduled for Thursday and Friday in East Palestine. It’s being described as a “fact-finding step” in the agency’s investigation and is expected to focus on communications and preparedness for the initial emergency response, as well as what led to the decision to vent the tank cars—five of which contained 115,580 gallons of vinyl chloride, a highly volatile colorless gas produced for commercial uses that is toxic to humans and the environment.

An initial report in February by the NTSB found that a wheel bearing on rail car 23 had passed three sensors prior to the East Palestine derailment. With each passing, the temperature had risen higher. The third sensor reported the temperature at 253 degrees, causing its automatic emergency braking to kick in and bring the train to a full stop.

In the wake of the Ohio disaster, the Senate Commerce Committee in May passed a new rail safety bill along bipartisan lines.  It would mandate the use of technology that can identify equipment failures, prevents cursory railcar inspections, and ensure that trains carrying explosive material comply with stronger safety regulations.

The bill would also increase maximum civil penalties from $100,000 to $10 million for rail safety violations. Further, it requires at a minimum two crew members be present to operate a train.

Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw testified before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Committee in March, apologizing for the Ohio derailment and promising that the rail owner won’t finish “until we make it right.”

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