Norfolk Southern’s Second Ohio Trail Derailment Under Investigation

Norfolk Southern’s Second Ohio Trail Derailment Under Investigation
Multiple cars of a Norfolk Southern train lie toppled on one another after derailing at a train crossing with Ohio 41 in Clark County, Ohio, on March 4, 2023. (Bill Lackey/Springfield-News Sun via AP)
Bryan Jung

After another Norfolk Southern Corp. (NSC) train derailed in Springfield, Ohio, over the weekend, authorities have launched an investigation.

This is the third train derailment on a line owned by NSC after the toxic Feb. 3 incident in East Palestine, Ohio—one of the worst environmental disasters in recent memory.

The first incident involved the deliberate release and burn of the carcinogen vinyl chloride from tanker cars by the authorities to manage the risk of a wider explosion, which prompted evacuations and environmental contamination that may last generations. Many residents living near the spill reported concerning symptoms likely from chemical exposure.

The second incident on Feb. 16 involved the derailment of a Norfolk Southern train in the Van Buren township outside of Detroit.

A separate incident in Florida in February led to the derailment of a train carrying 30,000 gallons of propane gas, after six cars flipped over along the Gulf Coast of the Sunshine State.

Officials said they are investigating what caused the train to derail near Springfield, Ohio, but claim that no toxic chemicals or hazardous materials were aboard this time.

A Norfolk Southern official told The Wall Street Journal that the two derailments in Ohio were unrelated.
“It was just bad luck,” he said.

Company Officials And Ohio Investigators Say No Hazard For Residents

A least 20 of the train’s 212 cars went off the tracks near Springfield on the afternoon of March 4, officials said, with no injuries being reported.

“I was just sitting there when the train was going by, playing on my phone, just goofing off, and I heard a loud bang, and when I looked up, there were all kinds of debris and metal shooting up from the train cars,” Shaun Heathon, an eyewitness, told CBS Pittsburgh.

Local residents saw hazmat crews heading towards the train derailment site, with people living within 1,000 feet of the incident told to shelter in place as a precaution, despite there being no toxic cargo onboard.

Springfield officials on Sunday told reporters that local hazmat crews were deployed after the crash out of an abundance of caution, there was “no indication of any injuries or risk to public health at this time.”

Four tankers contained non-hazardous materials, with two holding a small amount of diesel exhaust fluid and the other two holding small amounts of polyacrylamide water solution.

Polyacrylamide is a substance used in paper production and food processing that isn’t toxic, officials said.

“Polyacrylamide water solution and diesel exhaust fluid are products routinely shipped by rail,” an Ohio EPA official told The Wall Street Journal.

A crew from Norfolk Southern, the Clark County Hazmat team, and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency each independently examined the crash site and told The Epoch Times that there was no evidence of spillage.

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency reported that the derailment is not near a protected water source and that there was little risk to the water supply.

However, more than 1,500 residents found themselves without power in Clark County over the weekend after power lines were damaged in the immediate aftermath of the incident.

Norfolk Southern said it was coordinating with local authorities at the scene and working to clear the debris.

The track reopened on March 6.

State, Local, and Federal Officials At the Scene

Meanwhile, local and state officials held a press conference with Norfolk Southern executives on March 5.
“The cause of the derailment is still unknown,” said Kraig Barner, general manager for operations at Norfolk Southern.

“We can’t speculate on the causes. This derailment, like every derailment, will be fully investigated,” he said.

Matthew Smith, an assistant fire chief for Springfield’s Rescue Division, said that some cars carried liquid propane and ethanol, but there were no leaks.

“There is no spillage onto the ground or into the waterways at this time,” Smith said.

Anne Vogel, director of Ohio’s Environmental Protection Agency, also said that no hazardous materials were detected at the site.

“There was no release of any chemical or any hazardous material to the soil, to the air, or to the water,” she said.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg tweeted on March 4 that he had been briefed by Federal Railroad Administration about the derailment in Ohio and had spoken with the state’s governor, Mike DeWine, about the incident.

DeWine later posted on Twitter that he had been speaking to Buttigieg and President Joe Biden.

The governor reiterated that no hazardous materials were leaked and that multiple state agencies were on the scene.

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and the Ohio Emergency Management Agency were investigating the derailment, said DeWine.

East Palestine Train Fire Haunts Ohio

The East Palestine disaster prompted an evacuation of about half the town’s roughly 5,000 residents, an ongoing multi-governmental emergency response, and lingering concerns among the residents of the Ohio river valley of long-term health impacts.

A total of 38 cars derailed in the incident, including 11 tanker cars carrying hazardous materials, which then caught fire.

The train was carrying 115,580 gallons of highly flammable vinyl chloride in five tankers.

The substance is a known carcinogen and  has been linked to cancers of the brain, lungs, blood, lymphatic system, and liver, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Other railcars carried hazardous materials such as isobutylene and butyl acrylate.

Authorities ordered crews to burn the chemicals in a controlled release on Feb. 6, over fears that the vinyl chloride would explode. That decision saw a plume of dark, toxic smoke to spread throughout the region and leak hazardous waste into the Ohio River.

The EPA on March 2 sent a letter (pdf) ordering Norfolk Southern to begin testing the area around the derailment for dioxins. The toxic compounds can be produced as byproduct during incomplete combustion of chlorinated carbon materials.

Congress to Investigate East Palestine

A preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said that an overheated wheel bearing on a railcar was the primary cause of the East Palestine derailment.

Bipartisan Congressional legislation introduced this month seeks to subject railroads to new federal safety regulations and additional fines for future train disasters.

The offices of Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and J.D. Vance (R-Ohio), along with Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Bob Casey (D-Penn.), and John Fetterman (D-Penn.), have introduced a new rail safety bill to the Senate.

The senators said the legislation would strengthen safety procedures for trains carrying hazardous materials, establish requirements for railroad track defect detectors, impose a permanent requirement for trains to operate with at least two-person crews, and raise liabilities for accidents committed by private rail companies.

“We owe every American the peace of mind that their community is protected from a catastrophe of this kind,” Vance said in a statement.
Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw, is scheduled to testify before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee about the East Palestine disaster on March 9.

Shaw has promised that NSC will pay for all the damages and ongoing environmental monitoring.

He told WSJ that the railroad will continue to assist the residents of East Palestine recover for as long as needed.

“My job is to push out the noise and focus on the citizens of East Palestine, focus on the environmental remediation, focus on investing in this community,” Shaw said.