News & Reviews News Wire Rail traffic resumes, cleanup continues in East Palestine

Rail traffic resumes, cleanup continues in East Palestine

By Trains Staff | February 10, 2023

Newspaper reports video shows ‘fiery axle’ on train 20 miles before derailment

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Aerial view of derailment cleanup and track work
Track repairs and derailment cleanup continue in East Palestine, Ohio, in this view on Feb. 8, 2023. Sol Tucker

EAST PALESTINE, Ohio — Trains are running again through East Palestine, Ohio, although the village’s mayor isn’t too pleased with the way operations resumed.

WKYC-TV reports Norfolk Southern began operations on its main Cleveland-Pittsburgh line through East Palestine Wednesday evening, to the displeasure of Mayor Trent Conaway, who said he had been told trains would not begin operating until all residents had been able to return home.

“Anybody who was in incident command [Wednesday] night can tell that I was not very happy with that,” Conaway said, noting there was not much he could do “unless I go tie myself to the railroad tracks. …

“I know they have a job to do; they have to get through town,” Conaway acknowledged. Still, he and others were also concerned that equipment being used by the railroad to clean up the derailment could spread hazardous materials on local roads. Conaway said he was told company street sweepers would rectify that problem “immediately.”

“We’re going to hold their feet to the fire,” the mayor said. “They’re going to do what they said they’re going to do and they’re going to protect the people of this town.”

The reopening of the line also meant the resumption of Amtrak’s Capitol Limited after five days of cancellations; Thursday’s trains departed on time from Washington, D.C., and Chicago; as of 7:30 a.m. CST today, both trains are through the derailment area, with the westbound train running about an hour late and the eastbound is about 30 minutes behind schedule.

The city is facing other challenges in its return to normal.

In a Thursday press briefing, East Palestine Fire Chief Keith Drabeck said his department was in the same position as many others in the community: figuring out what it could or couldn’t use in the wake of the derailment and fire.

“All of our gear is out of service due to the fire,” Drabeck said. Departments from as far away as South Carolina were providing backup gear, he said, while his department figures out what it can still use and what has been contaminated. “If you drive past the fire house, it looks much like a lot of other areas in this town: a disaster area.”

While officials had given a general all-clear for people to return to their homes on Wednesday, they had also said they would offer air-quality readings of individual homes on request. About 300 such screenings had taken place by Thursday afternoon, said Columbiana County Emergency Management Agency Director Peggy Clark.

“It takes about a half an hour to do each home,” Clark said. Four teams are working 10 hours a day, she said, asking those waiting for an inspection to “please be patient.”

Questions over defect alert

Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that two security cameras in Salem, Ohio — about 20 miles from the derailment scene — show what appear to be a fiery axle on one car of the train that would derail in East Palestine. The report includes video from one of the cameras. This raises questions about when the crew was alerted about a potential defect by a wayside detector. National Transportation Safety Board member Michael Graham said at a Feb. 4 press conference that the crew had been informed of a defect and begun braking before the derailment [see “Vinyl chloride involved …,” Trains News Wire, Feb. 4, 2023]. There is a hotbox detector adjacent to the location of one of the Salem security cameras; the next one is in East Palestine, the newspaper reports.

Also, a fourth class action lawsuit has been filed over the derailment, WFMJ-TV reports. This one, the third in federal court, was filed by Ray and Judith Hall of East North Avenue in East Palestine, alleging negligence on the part of Norfolk Southern.

13 thoughts on “Rail traffic resumes, cleanup continues in East Palestine

  1. I know this point is more than moot, but what occurred to me was, “I wonder if a crew in a caboose would have seen the axle problem?”

  2. I would hope all the readers here know how to react if and when one might see something of this magnitude. First call 911. Then, if you can, call the phone number posted on the crossing, usually a white tag. Give them the situation and the tag location number. Also be aware trains make a lot of noises that are normal but I assume the readers here would know when something is ABNORMAL.
    During my tenure at CSX we went along a main highway into Grand Rapids from the west. An Ottawa County deputy, if he was in the area, always watched us go by and would report anything unusual. He had our road channel on his car radio. Always good to hear if anything was amiss and I have gotten a ride with this deputy more than once back to the head end after inspecting a problem.

  3. I can’t speak to the specifics of NS detectors, but the ones in familiar with will sound a tone over the radio the moment it detects a defect. Operating rules require the train begin slowing as soon as they hear this tone. Then once the train has passed, the detector will give it’s report. But the train should already be in the process of stopping.

    1. Right, our detectors on CP at the time I was there transmitted an alarm tone on the road channel immediately upon the defect passing across it and then we began slowing down but of course you still had to completely pass over the detector and at a speed that wasn’t “too slow” for it to operate in order to get the details, the type of defect and axle count and which side of the train, if applicable.

      It’s my understanding now modern detectors probably on class 1’s are networked so not only do they communicate with the railroad’s department which handles these things but each piece of equipment that is scanned for defects is compared with previous scans done by earlier detectors and that enables them to be aware of trends and perhaps slowly escalating temperatures, in theory.

      My anecdotal example is just the other night a CSX train passed by a detector which reported on the radio “no defects” and yet the dispatcher immediately come on the radio having been contacted by the department which handles defect detectors and told the train crew to stop their train immediately as they had a critical defect. Later, the conductor inspected the car and reported the temp stick melted easily, the journal was leaking a liquid out the side and that it was starting to become oval in shape.

  4. Is there anything we can do to help the City of East Palestine? A town this small was forced to respond to a disaster 200x their ability and gave everything they had. That deserves something in my book.

    1. Apparently some kids are still in their pajamas from the night they were evacuated. The Red Cross of Northern Ohio is also coordinating a help center in East Palestine.

      A local charity called Brightside is working with another charity called The Way Station to get clothes and cleaning supplies to the residents.

      From the Review:

      The Brightside Project has also partnered with the Way Station locations in Columbiana, and East Liverpool to distribute “Food for Kids” bags to residents unable to reach the office in Salem. This distribution is in addition to the Way Station’s own efforts supplying food, personal care products, diapers, and clothing. To affected families.

      The Columbiana location is located at 769 Springfield Road and is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and the East Liverpool location is located at 125 West Fifth Street, and is open Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

      While Way Station Executive Director Chaney Nezbeth didn’t have a current count of affected families assisted, she was able to confirm Wednesday evening that over 2,500 items of clothing had been given away to those in need, and had hundreds of households pick up food, clothes, hygiene and paper products in the last three days.

      “These families are so happy for anything that will help offset some of their expenses,” said Nezbeth.

      While Nezbeth said families hadn’t yet requested any specific items while receiving aid when asked for the most commonly requested items at their locations, she did say the most needed donation amid relief efforts were clothing, with food, hygiene, and laundry soap following respectively.

      “Their first need is for clothing since so many left with nothing. Many are coming in wearing the pajamas they were wearing when they left Friday night,” said Nezbeth.

      Nezbeth said donations of bottled water were also needed, as many East Palestine residents have concerns over the safety of their drinking water even after they are allowed to return to their homes. Nezbeth also noted a need for canned vegetables and meat.

      “We are seriously depleting our food stores and still need to feed those who already come for food all month long,” said Nezbeth.

      Those interested in making donations of Non-Perishable food items, or personal care products in support of the relief efforts can drop them off at the Brightside Project Office or either Way Station location during open operating hours.

      Donations of microwave friendly, non-perishable food items, personal care products, diapers, and new or gently used clothing for the East Palestine community are also being collected at Springfield Elementary school from 8 a.m. through 3 p.m. until Feb. 13, as part of “Kindness Project: Supporting East Palestine Bulldogs”. All donations will be given to The Way Station for distribution.

    2. I just got an email from Lisa at the Brightside Project about East Palestine.

      If you want to ship a material donation for East Palestine support:

      The best shipping address is to our Salem facility:

      The Brightside Project
      483 E. Pershing St.
      Salem, OHIO 44460

      But should someone want to mail a monetary donation, our mailing address is:

      The Brightside Project
      PO BOX 314
      Salem, OHIO 44460

      Or donations can be made on-line at http://www.brightsideprojectohio.org

      She said the people in East Palestine “are definitely feeling the love from across the country”.

  5. James,
    NS has a ‘wayside office’ that checks the train’s complete report if it is flagged by the system. They identify wheels whose temperature has been trending upward without triggering an alarm. They talk to the crew and dispatcher to determine how far the train can go before inspecting . Usually a handbrake wasn’t fully released.
    The question is how many are in the office at a given time and were they dealing with other issues and didn’t get to this train until it was too late?

  6. I agree Daniel. As a retired engineer I always watch trains go by looking for defects. There’s a ring doorbell camera video showing the train with what looks like a journal burning. I still find it hard to believe no one saw the thing burning and didn’t alert authorities. Though the area is very rural and lightly populated.
    Most detectors will “chirp” alerting the crew it has detected something abnormal. NS has a detector desk that many detectors will send messages out to notifying specifics. But the crew wouldn’t have known much of anything until the entire train had gone over the detector. Then it would have given the axle(s) where it detected a problem, total axle count, etc..

  7. There is a detector about two miles from my house on NJ transit that I haven’t heard in a long time. For about a week now I hear it like 20 times a day. Maybe they checked on it an said maybe we should make sure these things work.

  8. Can any of these detectors report “extreme” conditions immediately? All the automatic radio announcements I’ve heard are a summary and are therefore delayed until the whole train has passed. Are the reports, at least those with problems, also sent/monitored by dispatchers?

  9. WHOA! Catastrophic axle failure if there ever was one. When and what detector went off?
    As a retired conductor I watch trains go by and always look for defects that would cause damage. Sound and visual clues are rather evident in the footage….and 20 miles from the derailment site?

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