NTSB: Train conductor received alarm to inspect hot axle before East Palestine train derailment

Published: Feb. 22, 2023 at 1:17 PM EST|Updated: Feb. 23, 2023 at 3:07 PM EST
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EAST PALESTINE, Ohio (WOIO) - The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued its preliminary report Thursday morning regarding the Feb. 3 Norfolk-Southern train derailment in East Palestine.

According to the report, there were a total of 38 derailed cars.

11 tank cars were carrying hazardous materials that subsequently ignited, fueling fires that damaged an additional 12 non-derailed railcars.

Five of those cars were carrying the chemical vinyl chloride.

The NTSB report stated the train was traveling at less the maximum authorized speed before the derailment.

Now we know the hot bearing detectors along the track, three of them, were all working right before the train derailed in East Palestine. According to the NTSB, the three detectors caught an overheated wheel bearing and provided real-time warnings to the crew of the train.

At the first detector they examined, the wheel bearing from the 23rd car had a recorded temperature of 38 degrees above the outside air temperature.

At the next detector, the bearing’s recorded temperature was up to 103 degrees. And at the third detector, the bearing was 253 degrees above ambient temperature.

Norfolk-Southern has alarm thresholds for overheating like this.

Between 170 and 200 degrees, rail workers are to stop and inspect the train. And if the bearing is greater than 200 degrees, which it was at the last detector, they are to “set out the railcar” which means it needs to be set aside for repairs.

According to the NTSB, the hot bearing detector at the last point before the derailment transmitted a critical alarm instructing the crew to slow and stop the train to inspect a hot axle.

After the train stopped, the crew saw fire and smoke and called first responders, who responded to the scene.

The NTSB report said surveillance video from a local home showed what appeared to be a wheel bearing in the final stage of overheat failure, moments before the derailment. NTSB officials collected the wheel bearing and the wheelset as evidence and will exam them.

NTSB added their investigation remains ongoing and will focus on the wheelset and bearing, tank car design and derailment damage.

NTSB will also review accident response; including, the venting and burning of the tank cars carrying vinyl chloride.