Overheated wheel bearings a focus, U.S. agency says in 1st report on Ohio train crash

The U.S National Transportation Safety Board, in a preliminary report on the Feb. 3 train derailment in eastern Ohio, said on Thursday its investigation will focus on the response to the accident, including venting and burning of vinyl chloride, as well as other rail car design and company inspection issues.

The agency said it will also review railcar design and maintenance, as well as Norfolk Southern Corp.’s use of wayside defect detectors, among other issues.

Overheated wheel bearings will also be a line of inquiry.

“Surveillance video from a local residence showed what appeared to be a wheel bearing in the final stage of overheat failure moments before the derailment,” the agency said. “The wheel bearing and affected wheelset have been collected as evidence and will be examined by the NTSB.”

The National Transportation Safety Board is scheduled to hold a news conference at 1 p.m. ET.

The report arrived as U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg toured the wreckage of the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, on Thursday.

Buttigieg has said he will push major railroads to improve safety and seek bipartisan support in Congress to raise the cap on fines against railroads for violating safety regulations.

His visit comes after Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Michael Regan visited East Palestine earlier this week.

EPA orders company to pay for cleanup

U.S. President Joe Biden and his Democratic administration have said the company must pay for the damage and cleanup efforts, and the EPA ordered Norfolk Southern officials to attend town hall events after executives initially boycotted.

Norfolk Southern’s chief executive apologized on Wednesday at a CNN town hall event that highlighted residents’ concerns about soil and ground water contamination.

Front Burner27:50Fear lingers after Ohio’s toxic train disaster

Weeks after a train derailed and crews released and burned toxic chemicals, officials are reassuring residents of East Palestine, Ohio that the air and water are safe. Many residents, however, remain wary of the long-term effects of materials like vinyl chloride, with some reporting symptoms like skin and eye irritation and hoarseness. Simultaneously, a political conversation is unfolding about who or what to blame for the crash, with critics pointing to a lack of regulation and cost-cutting from rail giants as they post record profits. Today, a look at what’s happening on the ground as residents return to East Palestine, and a look at why rail disasters like this continue to happen more than a decade after the fatal catastrophe in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec.

Republicans and Democrats in Congress have exchanged accusations in the wake of the incident, pointing to missed opportunities during the Barack Obama and Donald Trump administrations to enact stricter regulations on the transport of hazardous chemicals, as well as general rail safety requirements.

Trump, who is campaigning for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, visited the area on Wednesday.

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