The 150-car train that derailed in Ohio causing a fire and the spillage of toxic chemicals suffered another mechanical failure days before the pile-up in East Palestine on February 2, rail workers said.
Employees for Norfolk Southern have suggested the train, designated 32N, was widely thought to have been too heavy and made up of too many cars, making it hard to stop, CBS News reported.
It comes as the Norfolk Southern CEO, Alan Shaw, became a focus of controversy after reports that the firm successfully lobbied former President Donald Trump to repeal a safety rule requiring some trains to have electronic brakes.
The National Transportation Safety Board said in a statement on Tuesday that it had ‘identified and examined the rail car that initiated the derailment’ and said surveillance video ‘showed what appears to be a wheel bearing in the final stage of overheat failure moments before the derailment.’
A spokesperson for Norfolk Southern Corporation rejected the idea the train was too long and heavy, telling DailyMail.com it ‘previously ran as one longer and heavier train before being split into two shorter, lighter trains in the past few months.’
But company officials also failed to show up to an East Palestine town hall meeting on Wednesday night, claiming they ‘were afraid for their safety’.
The 150-car train that derailed in Ohio causing a fire and the spillage of toxic chemicals suffered another mechanical failure days before the pile-up in East Palestine on February 2, rail workers told CBS News
It comes as the Norfolk Southern CEO, Alan Shaw, became a focus of controversy after reports that the firm lobbied to have a rule rescinded that would have required the implementation of electronic braking on trains
Norfolk Southern is now being sued by East Palestine residents who are concerned about the toxic chemicals being spilled from the train cars and a subsequent ‘controlled release’ of highly-flammable vinyl chloride.
The derailed train consisted of three locomotives, 141 loads and nine empties – it was 9,300-feet long and weighed 18,000 tons. During the accident 38 individual cars derailed, which caused a fire that damaged an additional 12 cars.
‘We shouldn’t be running trains that are 150-car lengths long,’ one of the employees told CBS. ‘There should be some limitations to the weight and the length of the trains. In this case, had the train not been 18,000 tons, it’s very likely the effects of the derailment would have been mitigated.’
Railroad Workers United, a US rail workers union, described derailment earlier this month as a ’19th century-style mechanical failure of the axle on one of the cars – an overheated bearing’.
‘There is no way in the 21st century, save from a combination of incompetence and disregard to public safety, that such a defect should still be threatening our communities,’ they wrote in a press release.
They went on to suggest that the distribution of weight across the train was also part of the problem.
‘Forty percent of the weight of NS 32N was grouped at the rear third of the train, which has always been bad practice and made more dangerous with longer heavier trains. This fact almost certainly made the wreck dynamically worse,’ they said.
A spokesperson for Norfolk Southern again rejected that claim and said that distribution of load along the train was uniform.
‘In addition to a uniform weight distribution, this train ran with a distributive power unit (a mid-train locomotive) which helps manage the dynamic forces of the train and reduces occurrences of broken knuckles,’ they said.
A man takes photos as a black plume rises over East Palestine, Ohio, as a result of a controlled detonation of a portion of the derailed Norfolk Southern train
East Palestine in Ohio is around 20 miles south of Youngstown and 40 miles northwest of Pittsburgh
A tank car sits on a trailer as the cleanup of portions of the Norfolk Southern freight train that derailed on February 3
There were other reports that rail workers considered 32N to be a dangerous and mismanaged train. One told Motherboard that it was nicknamed ’32 Nasty’ for its poor working conditions.
Norfolk Southern again dismissed the idea the train could be characterized in such a way. ‘Assigning a “reputation” to a train that fluctuates by thousands of tons on a regular basis is inaccurate,’ said the spokesperson.
The train company’s relatively new CEO, Shaw, now faces serious questions regarding the crash. He took the position on May 1, 2022, and has been serving as the president since December 1, 2021. According to his profile on the company’s website he joined in 1994.
The National Transportation Safety Board has said crews received an alarm from a wayside defect detector shortly before the train overturned, indicating a mechanical issue, and the emergency brakes were initiated.
Videos posted online show fish floating dead in streams across a seven-and-a-half mile radius of the train derailment.
Residents have also complained of sore throats and persistent coughs in the aftermath, with some saying that their chickens have mysteriously died just one day after officials conducted a ‘controlled explosion’ of the trains carrying vinyl chloride and their pet foxes becoming lethargic.
Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro has since written a letter to Shaw, criticizing the company’s unilateral decision-making in the aftermath of the derailment.
In a statement, Shaw said: ‘We will be judged by our actions.
‘We are cleaning up the site in an environmentally responsible way, reimbursing residents affected by the derailment and working with members of the community to identify what is needed to help East Palestine recover and thrive.’
Officials conducted a ‘controlled explosion’ of trains carrying vinyl chloride on February 6
The freight train carrying dangerous chemicals was enroute to Pennsylvania when it derailed
Workers are pictured removing contaminated dirt near the railroad tracks on Tuesday
A memorial near the train tracks was damaged in the derailment on February 3
Residents in East Palestine, Ohio are demanding answers as toxic chemicals continue to be released from the derailment in the area
During Shaw’s time at Norfolk Southern, lobbyists for the company successfully got former President Donald Trump to dismantle an Obama-era rule that would have required railway operators to update their braking systems, USA Today reported.
The Obama administration had pushed for a new safety rule to govern the transportation of hazardous materials to avoid environmental disasters following a train derailment in Casselton, North Dakota, that spilled nearly 500,000 gallons of crude oil and caused $13.5million in damages.
A new rule was proposed heavily fought by lobbyists including those from the Norfolk-Southern Corporation.
When the rule was implemented in 2015, it was narrowly crafted and only required railway operators to install electronically-controlled brakes – which applies braking simultaneously across a train rather than by railcar to railcar over the course of several seconds – by 2023.
The rule only applied to ‘high-hazard flammable trains’ carrying at least 20 consecutive loaded cars filled with liquids like crude oil.
Just three years after it was implemented, the Trump administration repealed the rule, saying the cost exceeded the benefits. As a result, Norfolk Southern continued to use its post-Civil War era braking technology.
They argued that the electronically controlled brakes are unreliable. Vice president of government relations, Rudy Husband, told Pennsylvania lawmakers in June 2015 that while the company would comply with the new rule it had ‘serious concerns about the ECB brakes requirements and the potential adverse impacts on the fluidity of the national freight network.’
Association of American Railroads spokeswoman Jessica Kahanek also told USA Today in an emailed statement that several railroad operators tested out ECP brakes and found them to have a ‘significant’ failure rate and lengthy repair time.
When those brakes fail, she said, the train becomes immovable.
About 50 cars, including 10 carrying hazardous materials, derailed in a fiery crash in East Palestine at about 9pm on Friday, February 3
A worker is pictured at a cleanup site in East Palestine, Ohio on February 9
A 2017 National Academy of Sciences report also said it was unable to ‘make a conclusive statement about the emergency performance of ECP brakes’ compared with other braking systems based on the results of Department of Transportation testing,
But if they had used the new electronically controlled brakes on the train travelling from Illinois to Pennsylvania earlier this month, the size of the derailment pile-up could have been reduced.
‘ECP brakes would have avoided that monster pile-up behind the derailed car,’ Steven Ditmeyer, a former senior official at the Federal Railroad Administration said.
‘In fact, depending on when the crew got the [error] notice from the wayside detector, applying the ECP brakes would have stopped everything very quickly. So I think it would have helped. ‘