NTSB fields questions from East Palestine residents, before 2-day investigative hearings

Published: Jun. 21, 2023 at 8:07 AM EDT
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COLUMBIANA COUNTY, Ohio (WOIO) - The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will hold a two-day investigative hearing in East Palestine beginning Thursday morning as part of their ongoing investigation into the Feb. 3 derailment of a Norfolk Southern train and subsequent hazardous material release and fires.

On Wednesday evening, June 21, NTSB officials met with residents at East Palestine High School to answer their questions, in advance of the hearings scheduled for June 22 and June 23.

Chair of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Jennifer Homadey told about 100 people who gathered in the high school’s auditorium, “We take our work very seriously, we don’t weigh costs and benefits. When we make a safety recommendation it is truly what is the right thing to do when it comes to safety.”

When some of the citizens impacted by the train derailment asked how can they get to the truth if Norfolk Southern hasn’t provided all of the recordings from that day, Homadey made it clear that even though some of the recordings were overwritten when the train’s engine was put back in service, they have viewed what is available. She says what’s clear is that the crew onboard the train did nothing wrong, “The train crew did nothing wrong. There was great work done by the crew in the locomotive. There was a locomotive engineer, a conductor, and a conductor trainee behind the conductor. At the point where they got the critical alarm the locomotive engineer was in the process of slowing down the train, while the conductor got out to figure out what was going on and saw smoke in back. The conductor trainee was on the phone with dispatch in Atlanta saying, hey, we’ve got a problem here and we’ve got a critical alarm.”

Homadey says the investigative committee has already gone thru the dockets and it’s thousands of pages of information the NTSB collected, and it’s everything from mechanical records, to what each car was carrying and what emergency responders initially knew when the train derailed.

Some of the witnesses scheduled to testify at the hearing include representatives from the below organizations:

  • Association of American Railroads
  • Beaver County Emergency Services
  • Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen
  • Carroll Applied Science, LLC
  • East Liverpool Fire Department
  • East Palestine Fire Department
  • East Palestine Police Department
  • ESi
  • Federal Railroad Administration
  • Midland Manufacturing
  • Norfolk Southern
  • OxyVinyls
  • Ohio National Guard
  • Ohio Department of Public Safety
  • Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency
  • Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration
  • Specialized Professional Services, Inc.
  • Specialized Response Solutions
  • Transportation Communications Union/IAM
  • Trinity Rail
  • University Transportation Center for Railway Safety, The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley

Residents remain extremely concerned over the air and water quality, and even though the NTSB appeared extremely sympathetic to those issues, they could not answer questions regarding air and water quality.

Federal, state and local officials have been on the ground cleaning up the contaminated site and doing round-the-clock monitoring of the air and water.

On June 13, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine submitted a letter to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) requesting a second extension on the deadline for Ohio to request a major disaster declaration.

“This extension would allow the State of Ohio to continue its efforts to ensure that Norfolk Southern provides the impacted areas with resources needed to recover from the event, including financial assistance, and to identify any gaps in areas of recovery where federal assistance may be needed,” said DeWine.