NTSB: Crew got safety alert moments before East Palestine derailment

EAST PALESTINE — The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is releasing new details about the toxic train derailment that happened earlier this month in northeast Ohio.

The NTSB released their preliminary report in their investigation into the Feb, 3 derailment, which stated that the crew operating the train did not received a critical warning about an overheated axel until just before dozens of cars went off the tracks, the Associated Press reported.

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The train was “operating with a dynamic brake application as the train passed a wayside defect detector” when the detector, or a hot bearing detector (HBD), transmitted a “critical audible alarm message instructing the crew to slow and stop the train to inspect a hot axle,” the report stated. Prior to this, the train was traveling at 47 mph, which was just under the speed limit of 50 mph.

After getting the alarm, the engineer increased the brake application to slow down and stop the train. While the train was decelerating, an automatic emergency brake application initialed and the train came to a stop.

Prior to the derailment, the Norfolk Southern train passed three HBD systems that recorded the temperature conditions of wheel bearings. The temperature readings were read in the following order:

  • At milepost 79.9: 38°F above ambient temperature
  • At milepost 69.01: 103°F above ambient temperature
  • At milepost 49.81: 253°F above ambient temperature

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Norfolk Southern’s HBD alarm thresholds for bearings are as follows:

  • Between 170°F and 200°F, warm bearing (non-critical); stop and inspect
  • A difference between bearings on the same axle greater than or equal to 115°F (non-critical); stop and inspect
  • Greater than 200°F (critical); set out railcar

The crew saw fire and smoke and notified a Cleveland East dispatchers of a possible derailment. After getting authorization, the crew applied handbrakes to the two locomotives at the head of the train and disconnected them from the rest of the train.

You can read the full report here.

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