Wheels sparking, on fire 20 miles before Ohio train derailment, security footage shows

EAST PALESTINE — Newly released security footage showed one of the train cars sparking in the wheel, bearing, and axil area about 20 miles before the Norfolk Southern train derailed in northeast Ohio. A former train engineer and employee for the company viewed the video and raised concerns about the security measures that were in place.

>> MORE: Norfolk Southern train carrying hazardous materials derails outside of Detroit

The National Transportation Safety Board acknowledged a security video that showed one of the train’s wheels on fire as it road across the tracks.

“That was a tell-tell sign ‘cause there’s so much pressure, so much on that bearing, it won’t last long sparking that hot that much,” Former Norfolk Southern train engineer, David Farwick, told WCPO.

As Farwick stated, the train failed to last long. 20 miles down its track, the train derailed and caught on fire that lasted days. News outlets and nearby residents were able to capture the fire from over a mile away. However, once fire crews arrived on scene, they were limited in their ability to attack the fire.

News Center 7 previously reported that the train cars were carrying toxic, combustible chemicals that posed a public safety threat. Ohio’s governor issued an evacuation notice for East Palestine fearing that the fire would breach the safety barriers in the train cars and cause an explosion.

Since the initial emergency, officials lifted the evacuation order after crews were able to safely put out the flames using a controlled release method that burned some of the combustible chemicals inside the train cars.

While responders and officials were able to control the incident to prevent the worst outcome, some, including Farwick, believed the safety measures in place should have prevented the disaster.

“Hot box detectors” laid along the train tracks to read the temperature of each railcar wheel as it passed. These detectors were usually about 20 miles apart, but could vary depending on the location, Farwick said.

Once a detector was triggered, the alert would be instant, signifying that the conductor needed to stop the train.

“It’s immediate. It will say hot box alert and then it will tell you automatically it’s axle 131 west side,” Farwick informed.” I mean it’s immediate and we have to take action.”

The National Transportation Safety Board stated that the crew was shortly alerted before the derailment.

Farwick pointed to other safety precautions in place.

“The maintenance people, they work that track. They walk it, they inspect the brakes, they inspect anything hanging, they inspect the journals, they inspect the bearings, they do a pre-brake test on it,” Farwick told WCPO. “You’ll leave the terminal and within 15 miles you will be going by something that is a hot box detector, a dragging equipment detector, another train. It’s constant when we leave the yard there’s someone there watching us go by.”

With all the safety precautions in place, Farwick wondered, “How did this happen?”

Although the derailment was a dangerous incident, Farwick reassured that the rail industry was the safest way to transport large amount of hazardous chemicals.

“It would take 300 trucks to move exactly what we did,” he said. “Do you want 300 more trucks out there or do you want this to go through one time?”

The preliminary investigation report is set to be released in the first week of March.

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