Here's why the Ohio train derailed

Derailed train cars along East Taggart Street in East Palestine, Ohio as crews continue cleanup Tuesday, February 14, 2023.
East Palestine, Ohio Photo credit Angelo Merendino/Getty Images

The National Transportation Safety Board has released its preliminary report on the disastrous train derailment and toxic spill in East Palestine, Ohio.

Investigators say crew members didn't get much warning until just before dozens of cars went off the tracks, and there is no indication that crew members did anything wrong.

According to the report, crew members tried to slow the train after an overheated wheel bearing set off a "critical audible alarm message." During this deceleration, an automatic emergency brake application initiated and the train came to a stop.

After the crew saw fire and smoke, a possible derailment was reported to the dispatcher. Fifty of the 149 railcars went off the tracks.

The train was traveling at an estimated 47 miles per hour - below the speed limit of 50 mph - at the time of the derailment.

"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 report noted.

According to the Associated Press, investigators said the temperature of the failed wheel bearing increased by 215 degrees in a span of 30 miles, but did not reach the temperature threshold that railroad company Norfolk Southern had set for an alarm to go off until just before the wreck.

The rail company said the report shows its heat detectors were working as designed and that crew members were operating within the rules.

Eleven of the derailed cars were carrying hazardous materials that subsequently ignited, fueling fires that damaged an additional 12 non-derailed railcars. Five of the cars were carrying including the highly toxic chemical vinyl chloride, some of which was intentionally burned off to avoid a possible explosion.

First responders implemented a one-mile evacuation zone surrounding the derailment site that affected up to 2,000 residents. That zone was later expanded to two miles during the controlled burn. Some residents have since returned, albeit with fears about health risks. The Environmental Protection Agency is still assessing environmental hazards posed by the incident, including air monitoring, testing of water quality, and remediation.

On Tuesday, the EPA ordered Norfolk Southern to pay for the cleanup effort.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said 4,600 yards of contaminated soil and 1.1 million gallons of contaminated water have already been removed. Norfolk Southern also said it would excavate the soil under two tracks at the crash site.

An exact cause of the derailment remains under federal investigation.

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Featured Image Photo Credit: Angelo Merendino/Getty Images