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Preliminary report on Norfolk Southern New Castle train derailment focuses on hot bearing detectors, lack of alarm

Crews cleaning up after train derailment in New Castle
Crews cleaning up after train derailment in New Castle 03:10

NEW CASTLE, Pa. (KDKA) -- The National Transportation Safety Board's preliminary report for a Norfolk Southern train derailment in New Castle last month focused on hot bearing detectors and how there seemed to be no audible alarm before the train derailed. 

The NTSB said the nearly 20,000-ton train derailed shortly before 11 p.m. on May 10 on the Youngstown Line. 

In the report released Thursday, NTSB said a hot bearing detector recorded 253 degrees above ambient temperature, which is considered "critical," for an east-side bearing on an axle around 10:13 p.m. Radio transmission records show the detector transmitted an alarm but data logs don't show that the advanced train control received an alert, the NTSB said. 

About 38 minutes later, nine mixed-freight railcars derailed. One car had hazardous materials but there was no breach and no one was injured. 

During a review of signal data logs, the NTSB said investigators found that workers had performed maintenance on the Youngstown Line between Conway Yard and New Castle on May 8. Crews detached and reattached track-mounted components of a hot bearing detector but testing after the accident showed that the detector's transducers were attached incorrectly and reporting reversed train travel detections. 

The NTSB said Norfolk Southern's advanced train control system requires an accurate report of train travel direction to interpret data from hot bearing detectors. 

The NTSB said examinations after the accident didn't identify conditions that would have prevented the hot bearing detector from transmitting an alarm message, but image recorder and audio data from the head-end locomotive didn't find evidence of an audible alarm. The radio was functional, though investigators said they found a loose coaxial connection between the antenna and radio.

The NTSB said its investigation is ongoing. It will continue to look at the wheelset and bearing, Norfolk Southern's use of hot bearing detectors and Norfolk Southern's railcar inspection practices.

The board is also currently investigating Norfolk Southern's safety culture after several derailments, including one in East Palestine, Ohio, on Feb. 3 that caused an evacuation when first responders burned toxic chemicals in some of the derailed cars to prevent an uncontrolled explosion.

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