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East Palestine Train Derailment: NTSB releases preliminary report, Sec. Buttigieg visits site

East Palestine Train Derailment: NTSB releases preliminary report 02:51

WASHINGTON (KDKA) — The National Transportation Safety Board released its preliminary report of the East Palestine train derailment on Thursday. 

The report partially focuses on surveillance video that showed sparks or flames coming from an axle about 20 miles before the train derailed. The NTSB said a sensor recorded a critical temperature of 253 degrees, alarms went off and automatic emergency braking kicked in.   

The four-page preliminary report — which says this incident was 100 percent preventable — zeros in on train car No. 23, which we now know was the central issue as well as its wheelset and bearings, which continued to heat up for miles while unbeknownst to the crew.

"At each detector, the recorded temperature of the bearing increased," said NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy.

The NTSB revealed the train passed over three detectors, which are sort of infrared sensors on the tracks. The last one, positioned on the east side of Palestine, Ohio, sent the crew an audible alert to stop because of the high temperature.

"During the deceleration, the wheel bearing failed. Car No. 23 derailed and the train initiated an emergency brake application and came to a stop," Homendy said.

So far, the chair of the NTSB said it has not found any wrongdoing by the crew or any issues with the track itself or those detectors, which continue to be scrutinized. Video captured by a doorbell camera miles from the derailment site showed sparks and possible flames along the rail.

Although the company at the center of this disaster and its actions weren't the primary focus of this report, Norfolk Southern is still very much under the microscope.

"The question is was there any wrongdoing on Norfolk Southern's part," Homendy said. "We'll have to evaluate that during our analysis."

That analysis phase is next for the NTSB. And at that point, it will look further into Norfolk Southern's actions and procedures and release any recommendations for change.

Read the NTBS Preliminary Report

East Palestine Train Derailment Preliminary Report by KDKA Digital Team on Scribd

Residents and leaders testify about train derailment in Pa. Senate hearing

Residents from Ohio and Pennsylvania testified during a state Senate hearing Thursday about the aftermath of the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio.  

Many shared frustrations and anger as they continue to wait for answers from government officials about their health and safety. 

"I'm just so sick and tired of not knowing, not being represented as people. We matter," said Kim Nalesnik, a Darlington Township resident.  

Others said they're traumatized by not only what happened, but the response by local, state and federal officials who should be working to keep them safe.  

"Where are the resources? Families can't afford these extra expenses, lodging, air purifiers or medications. I am asking you today to find out why we've been failed repeatedly over and over," said Lonni Miller, another resident. 

Miller said in the days after the derailment, she had to rely on social media to know what was going on in her own backyard.  

"I was living in pure panic, anxiety and anguish. You just don't know what to do," Miller said.  

She and many others also reported to senators at the hearing that they've been experiencing headaches, rashes and even their eyes and lips burning and believe it's from the toxic chemicals released into the air.  

"We should have trained professionals to treat these rashes and headaches and not send a PCP in to take a guess on what you were exposed to. None of these services have been done or thought of," said Chris Wells, an East Palestine resident. 

"I want to ask why Norfolk Southern, who was so busy assembling rails, wasn't putting plans into place, mitigation efforts, to control the chemicals. Why were they not damming it up somehow to prevent it from getting into our waterways?" Miller asked.  

Sen. Doug Mastriano said he and his colleagues are looking for the facts to learn more about what happened and what could have been done differently. 

"I want to find out what happened, what we did right, what we did wrong, how can we make it better in the future but how do we get aid for people suffering right now? Mastriano told KDKA.  

Testimonies also revealed that agencies like the DEP, EPA and Norfolk Southern were not communicating with each other leading up to the controlled release of toxic chemicals. 

The director of PEMA, Randy Padfield, said Norfolk Southern was the one to make the final call. 

"On Sunday evening, a report from the site said there was a concern with one of the cars carrying vinyl chloride and the pressure may be blocked," Padfield said. "By Monday morning, the plan changed to burn five rail cars instead of one." 

Padfield said that plan was never discussed on Sunday night. He said PEMA asked about alternative plans and was told Norfolk Southern has over 200 years of experience.  

"They said it was the only option," Padfield testified. 

Residents and leaders testify about train derailment in Pa. Senate hearing 02:29

Other local leaders, like the Beaver County board of commissioners, also testified, asking to ensure equipment for firefighters that responded to the derailment be replaced, telling senators it's now contaminated.  

Daniel Camp also asked that all residents and first responders be taken care of in Beaver County, and not forgotten just because they are not living in East Palestine.  

Richard Negrin, acting secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection said they're now testing the air in Beaver County and have started sampling groundwater in wells.  

Negrin said they will begin surface level monitoring, including the soil, soon.  

The DEP said it's conducting independent air and water quality monitoring. If you are within two miles of the incident, you should contact DEP's Southwest Regional Office for assistance with testing at 412-442-4000.  

By Erika Stanish

Norfolk Southern responds to NTSB report

Norfolk Southern has released a statement following the NTSB revealing its preliminary report on the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio.

In part, Norfolk Southern said it "will develop practices and invest in technologies that could help prevent an incident like this in the future."

Click here to read.

By Michael Guise

Estimated animal death toll from Ohio train derailment tops 43,700 as time frame for environmental recovery remains uncertain, officials say

Last week, officials said they believed that the Ohio train derailment had killed 3,500 aquatic animals. On Thursday, they provided a new estimate, pushing the total to more than 43,700 animals within a 5-mile area. 

Mary Mertz, director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, said on Thursday that the new estimate comes amid updated calculations. 

When ODNR officials first responded to the Feb. 3 train derailment, she said they were informed by the Ohio EPA that it was "too dangerous to enter the water without specialized gear and the proper equipment." That led to them ultimately relying on an environmental consultant group, EnviroScience, that was on-site and had such tools to survey the waterways. 

Over the course of two days, from Feb. 6-7, that group collected samples at four different sites. During that time, 2,938 dead aquatic animals were found, 2,200 of which were small minnows, with the remaining animals being fish, amphibians and invertebrates. 

Based on that sample size, officials were able to calculate the total aquatic animal death toll within the 7.5-mile ara that was impacted by the train derailment. Those calculations show a significantly higher toll than what was originally sampled. 

Read more about this story here


NTSB to hold 'rare' investigative field hearing

Calling the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, "100% preventable," NTSB Board Chair Jennifer Homendy announced a "rare" investigative field hearing planned for the spring.   

"We call things accidents. There is no accident," she said at a press conference Thursday afternoon. "Every single event that we investigate is preventable, so our hearts are with you. Know that the NTSB had one goal and that is safety and ensuring that this never happens again."  

Homendy said the investigative hearing is different than a town hall. She said the board will invite witnesses to be questioned with the goals of informing the public, collecting factual information from witnesses, discussing possible solutions and building consensus for change.  

Homendy said the investigation will take 12 to 18 months because the process is "very methodical" but she said if they realize there's something that needs immediately addressed, officials won't hesitate to issue emergency safety recommendations. 

A point of focus was how the hot bearing detector transmitted a "critical audible alarm message" telling crews to slow and stop the train to inspect a hot axle, but Homendy said the temperature passed two other thresholds before the alarm went off just before the derailment. 

Homendy said those thresholds are set by railroads and vary but it's possible that had the detector gone off at a lower temperature, the derailment might not have happened. There's no federal guidance on those temperatures, and Homendy said looking into that will be a "priority" for the board. 

"We've never seen an accident that isn't preventable," she said. "And I don't like the word 'accident,' I hate to use it. Nothing is an accident. When it comes to prevention, it could be actions on the railroad's part for maybe not having more conservative policies on thresholds or it could be some sort of problem with the wheel bearing that could have been addressed earlier. Those are just examples, we don't know that yet, we are still conducting our fact-finding portion of our investigation, but we will know that at some point." 

Homendy also expressed frustration with misinformation and people speculating on solutions that she said aren't actual solutions, and when asked about former President Donald Trump's visit, she said the investigation isn't about politics, but safety. 

"Enough with the politics on this. Enough with the politics. I don't understand why this has gotten so political. This is a community that is suffering. This is not about politics, this is about addressing their needs, their concerns." 

She also stressed that the NTSB was not a part of the decision-making process when it came to the controlled burn but said they'll also investigate whether that was carried out according to the Federal Railroad Administration's guidance or if that guidance needs to be updated. 

By Madeline Bartos

Beaver County residents express concerns over derailment at Senate hearing: 'We matter!'

Dozens of people attended a Senate committee hearing in Beaver County on the Ohio train derailment.

Some Beaver County residents in attendance told KDKA-TV they've been living in fear, and they just want answers.

People filled the event center at the Community College of Beaver County for the Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee public hearing on Thursday.

State lawmakers hear concerns from Beaver County citizens after train derailment 02:47

Sen. Doug Mastriano is the chairman of the committee. He said they had the hearing in Beaver County instead of Harrisburg so senators could hear directly from people impacted by the derailment's aftermath. 

Senators started off the hearing by explaining how they're looking for the facts about the Norfolk Southern train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, near the Pennsylvania border on Feb. 3.

The Senate committee gathered testimony from a wide variety of people to look into the emergency response, including the controlled burn of toxic chemicals after the train derailed.

Multiple residents shared emotional testimonies with the committee about how they are still concerned about what's in their air, soil and water.

KDKA-TV exclusively interviewed Mastriano before the hearing. Mastriano said this is a case where Democrats and Republicans can come together to help people.

"I want to find out what happened, what we did right, what we did wrong, how can we make it better in the future but how do we get aid for people suffering right now?" said Mastriano.

Several Darlington Township, Beaver County residents told KDKA-TV the aftermath has negatively affected their lives, from their health to living with a lot of unknowns. 

"Personally, I've had bad headaches and I've had a cough and stuff, but my impact is my nine grandkids that I don't know what the future is for them and we are not getting any answers as to what to do for them, how to prepare them. I'd just like to know the science behind this stuff," said Kim Nalesnik, a lifelong Darlington Township resident. "I'm just so sick and tired of not knowing, not being represented as people. We matter!" she added.

Residents said they're sad and angry as they feel like they're being left in the dark, especially if they live outside the one-mile evacuation zone.

"Nobody wants to give us any answers. We're afraid to drink our water, we're afraid for our soil, for our children, for our grandchildren, our animals," said Lori O'Connell, another Darlington Township resident.

"We live quiet, humble lives. We can't live that now. We live in fear. So we want answers," O'Connell said.

Members of Gov. Josh Shapiro's administration, local emergency agencies involved in the response, the American Lung Association and a legal panel were also slated to testify Thursday.

Norfolk Southern representatives were asked to testify as well. 

Mastriano told KDKA-TV's Jessica Guay that he was disappointed because the president and CEO of Norfolk Southern, Alan Shaw, did not attend. 

Mastriano said that they'll have to do a vote in Harrisburg next week and try to issue a subpoena.

By Jessica Guay

NTSB: Train crew got safety alert just before derailment

EAST PALESTINE, Ohio (AP) — The crew operating a freight train that derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, did not receive a critical warning about an overheated axle until just before dozens of cars went off the tracks, federal safety investigators said in a report Thursday.

An engineer slowed and stopped the train after getting a "critical audible alarm message," according to a preliminary report by the National Transportation Safety Board. The crew then saw fire and smoke and alerted dispatch of a possible derailment, the report said.

NTSB releases initial report on East Palestine train derailment 01:17

The axle investigators are focused on had been heating up as the train went down the tracks, but did not reach the threshold for stopping the train and inspecting it until just before the derailment, the report said. The train was going about 47 mph (75 kph) at the time, just under the speed limit of 50 mph (80 kph), according to safety investigators.

Ohio Republican Lt. Gov. Jon Husted told CNN ahead of the report's release that its findings had the potential to form the basis of a criminal referral from the state. He also said railroad company Norfolk Southern should temporarily relocate people who continue to feel unsafe, or even consider buying their property.

"This is the railroad's responsibility, and it's up to the government officials at the federal, state and local levels to hold them accountable and do right by the citizens of East Palestine," Husted said.

Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro's administration has already made a criminal referral of Norfolk Southern to the state attorney general's office.

NTSB released its preliminary findings as U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, criticized for failing to visit East Palestine earlier, went on a tour of the crash site Thursday.

The government is facing growing criticism over the federal response to the Feb. 3. derailment. The Biden White House has defended its response, saying officials from the Environmental Protection Agency, the transportation safety board and other agencies were at the rural site within hours of the derailment. The White House says it has also offered federal assistance and FEMA has been coordinating with the state emergency operations center and other partners.

Another Biden administration official, EPA Administrator Michael Regan, has been to East Palestine multiple times, most recently Tuesday as the EPA ordered Norfolk Southern to pay for the cleanup.

Among those criticizing Buttigieg was former President Donald Trump, who came to Ohio on Wednesday. The Department of Transportation said Buttigieg is visiting now that the EPA has declared the emergency phase of the crash to be over and the start of long-term cleanup efforts is underway.

Heather Bable, who lives two blocks from the derailment site, said she's relieved the government's top brass is finally showing up.

"We need that attention because we weren't getting it. They should have been here all along," said Bable, who was among the throngs of residents lining the streets in pouring rain to welcome Trump on Wednesday.

The reception for Buttigieg was decidedly more muted, with little fanfare around the village of just under 5,000 residents. Trump won nearly 72% of the vote in this heavily Republican region in the 2020 election.

Buttigieg's visit came nearly three weeks after more than three dozen freight cars — including 11 carrying hazardous materials — derailed on the East Palestine outskirts, near the Pennsylvania state line, prompting an evacuation as fears grew about a potential explosion of smoldering wreckage.

Officials seeking to avoid an uncontrolled blast intentionally released and burned toxic vinyl chloride from five rail cars, sending flames and black smoke high into the sky. That left people questioning the potential health effects even as authorities maintained they were doing their best to protect people.

As remediation of the site continued, Norfolk Southern announced late Wednesday it had agreed to excavate the soil under two tracks. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine had called out the railroad company's failure to address the contaminated soil underneath its tracks before repairing them and running freight again.

"Our original plan would have effectively and safely remediated the soil under our tracks. As I listened to community members over the past two weeks, they shared with me their concerns about that approach. I appreciate the direct feedback, and I am addressing it," Norfolk Southern President and CEO Alan H. Shaw said in a written statement.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Chris Deluzio, whose Pennsylvania district borders the East Palestine disaster site, asked Norfolk Southern to expand the boundaries of the geographic zone in which it is providing financial assistance and testing. He asserted the current zone excludes many affected Pennsylvania residents and businesses, and said the company should commit to cleaning up soil and water up to 30 miles (48 kilometers) beyond it.

"Norfolk Southern is failing to show any commitment to rebuilding lost trust in our community," Deluzio wrote in a letter to Shaw. Providing additional resources "would help your company restore the sense of security that the Norfolk Southern train derailment and its aftermath destroyed."

The president of the Ohio Senate, meanwhile, announced a public hearing on the derailment next week to hear testimony from state officials.

By The Associated Press

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg makes first trip to East Palestine

(KDKA/AP) - Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg visited East Palestine, Ohio, for the first time nearly three weeks after a train carrying toxic chemicals derailed. 

Buttigieg met with community members, heard from federal investigators and got an update on the investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board.    

Speaking to reporters afterward, Buttigieg said he was "trying to strike the right balance" between showing support on the ground and allowing the safety board to take the lead in the early going.

He praised "the resilience, the resolve and the decency" of the community amid the impact of the disaster itself and the crush of media and political attention.

Buttigieg was criticized after not commenting on the derailment until ten days after it happened. He told CBS News that he "could have spoken sooner" and called it a "lesson learned." He also said he hasn't visited yet because Transportation Department representatives were "on the ground from day one." 

On Tuesday, Buttigieg issued a set of actions for the Department of Transportation, rail industry and Congress to take immediately instead of waiting for the NTSB's investigation to finish.  

By Madeline Bartos
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