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Video showed wheel bearing was in "final stage of overheat failure" before Ohio train derailed, report says

Preliminary findings on Ohio train derailment
NTSB releases preliminary report on Ohio train derailment 02:52

The National Transportation Safety Board released a preliminary report Thursday about the toxic train derailment earlier this month in East Palestine, Ohio. Thirty-eight cars derailed in the Feb. 3 crash, including 11 tank cars carrying chemicals including vinyl chloride

"NTSB investigators identified and examined the first railcar to derail, the 23rd railcar in the consist," the NTSB report said. "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 said the wheel bearing and affected wheelset have been collected as evidence and will be a focus of further investigation. But in a news conference on Thursday, NTSB chief Jennifer Homendy emphasized that the report has not identified a "probable cause." 

According to the report, the train was traveling 47 miles per hour, slightly below the 50 mile per hour speed limit. The suspect wheel bearing was recorded as being above ambient temperature three times before the derailment.  

At first, the axle was 38 degrees above ambient temperature, according to recordings taken by a wayside defect detector, also called a hot bearing detector (HBD), which provides audible, real-time warnings to train crews. By the second alert, the axle was 103 degrees above ambient tempreature. When the third alert went off, it was 253 degrees above ambient. 

According to the NTSB, a recorded temperature 200 degrees above ambient is considered "critical" and the train must stop.
Homendy said the crew did not have to act until that third, critical alert came in. The HBD "transmitted an audible alarm message instructing the crew to slow and stop the train" after registering the critical temperature, the NTSB said. 

Homendy said that the crew "took immediate action" after hearing the alarm, and stopped the train. While increasing the brake application to stop the train, a wheel bearing failed. 

"We have no evidence that the crew did anything wrong," said Homendy. 

Once the train stopped, the crew observed fire and smoke and notified dispatchers of a possible derailment, the NTSB report said. 

Read the report:

East Palestine OH Derailment Preliminary NTSB Report by CBS News on Scribd

The agency's ongoing investigation will look at the tank car design and derailment damage and review the accident response, including the decision to vent and burn vinyl chloride. The train was carrying 115,580 gallons of the substance across five cars at the time of the derailment, the NTSP report said. The temperature in one of those cars continued to rise, concerning authorities, because the temperature increase suggested the chemical could be undergoing a reaction that would pose an explosion hazard. 

After expanding the evacuation area from one mile to two, responders scheduled a controlled venting of the five cars. This released and burned the chloride, a process that took several hours on Friday, Feb. 6. 

The NTSB will also look at railcar design, maintenance procedures and practices, and Norfolk Southern's inspection practices and use of wayside defect detectors. Homendy said that the board will hold a "rare" investigative hearing in East Palestine this spring, which will include questioning invited witnesses. 

Since the derailment, residents of East Palestine have expressed concern about the environmental impacts of the crash, and Norfolk Southern, the company that operated the train, said tons of contaminated material have been removed from the crash site. 

More than 43,000 animal deaths in the area have been attributed to the aftereffects of the derailment. 

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg visited East Palestine on Thursday for the first time. A Department of Transportation spokesperson said he was going "now that the EPA has said it is moving out of the emergency response phase and transitioning to the long-term remediation phase."

"His visit also coincides with the NTSB issuing its factual findings of the investigation into the cause of the derailment and will allow the secretary to hear from USDOT investigators who were on the ground within hours of the derailment to support the NTSB's investigation," the spokesperson said. 

Former President Trump visited the town on Wednesday and praised local officials for helping in "an hour of need," before blasting the Biden administration's response as a "betrayal."

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