WASHINGTON, D.C. (WKBN) – The National Transportation Safety Board on Thursday released its preliminary report into the investigation concerning the Norfolk Southern train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio.
The cause, as detailed in Thursday’s report, was said to be an overheated wheel bearing which had been operating in a “critical” temperature range.
These initial findings come nearly two weeks after the Feb. 3 derailment, which sparked concerns over handling of the hazardous materials on the train and the possible health repercussions for nearby residents.
In its report, the NTSB said that the train was traveling about 47 miles per hour at the time of the derailment, or about 3 miles per hour below the authorized speed of 50 miles per hour. Upon passing a defect detector (also known as a “hot bearing detector,” or HBD) in East Palestine, a critical audible alarm was transmitted to the crew, signaling they stop and inspect the axle.
During a press conference from Washington D.C. on Thursday, NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy further clarified that the train was already “in braking mode because of a train in front of them,” and was already in the process of slowing when derailment occurred.
The crew subsequently observed “fire and smoke and notified the Cleveland East dispatcher of a possible derailment,” the report says.
Prior to derailment, the train had also passed by three bearing detectors which recorded the rising temperature of the wheel bearing. The first two measured the wheel bearing in below even “non-critical” ranges, but the last observed the wheel bearing at 253 degrees (Fahrenheit) above ambient — or well over the “critical” threshold of 200 degrees above ambient, according to Norfolk Southern’s HBD alarm thresholds detailed by the NTSB.
During examination of the data, investigators also became aware of surveillance video that appeared to show the bearing “in the final stage of overheat failure moments before the derailment.”
The NTSB is continuing to investigate.
At Thursday’s press conference, Homendy said that she believed the incident was “100% preventable,” but said there are often several factors that can lead to a single train derailment.
“Every event we investigate is preventable,” she said. “Know that the NTSB has one goal, and that is safety and making sure this never happens again.”
Homendy said the NTSB will hold a rare investigative field hearing in the spring.
‘We don’t have investigative field hearings often,” Homendy said.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg also visited East Palestine earlier the same day, marking his first visit to the village since the derailment.
The burning of hazardous chemicals that were in some of the rail cars — including over a hundred-thousand gallons of vinyl chloride — has concerned local residents, some of who claim their pets have gotten sick, or that they have noticed dead fish turning up in the nearby creek. Some also complained of headaches.
Rail accidents affecting Norfolk Southern trains have also increased compared to previous years, with 770 reported in 2022, up from 79 a decade earlier.