Second Norfolk Southern Train Derails in OH

TUESDAY, MARCH 7, 2023


Just a month after the derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, a second Norfolk Southern train derailed Saturday (March 4) evening near Springfield, Ohio. Officials reported that no hazardous materials were involved in the 28-car derailment, noting that the accident posed no risk to the public.

Initially, following the crash, a precautionary shelter-in-place order was issued for residents within 1,000 feet of the site, but that order was lifted early Sunday. Power was also knocked out to some residents as the crash took down power lines. Anne Vogel, Director of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, said no chemicals or hazardous materials were released into the air, soil or water.

Latest Incident

Norfolk Southern General Manager Kraig Barner told reporters that the 212-car train had four tankers that carried nonhazardous materials. Two had residual amounts of diesel exhaust fluid, and the others had residual amounts of polyacrylamide water solution, along with one hopper carrying nontoxic plastic pellets that were partially spilled.

The rest of the train included a couple of liquid propane and ethanol tankers and cars with mixed freight, steel and finished automobiles, which did not overturn, Barner said, adding that many of the cars that derailed were empty box cars.

The two crew members on board were reportedly uninjured. The last train car was cleared from the site at about 3 p.m. on Sunday. The Federal Railroad Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the incident.

According to reports, an internal Norfolk Southern email indicated that Norfolk Southern was planning to reduce train length in an effort to prevent future accidents.

“At Norfolk Southern, the safety of our crews and the communities we serve comes first,” Connor Spielmaker, spokesman for Norfolk Southern, wrote via email. “Part of enhancing safety is continuously evaluating how we operate our network, and we have been examining immediate ways to move that goal forward.

“Today, as an interim step, we are ensuring all trains longer than 10,000 feet are operated with distributive power. We will build on this interim change to drive final policies that are appropriate for each segment of our railroad.”

The railroad carrier also told CNBC that it is actively reviewing all safety protocols to make sure trains are operating appropriately across the network.

While the incident is the second in Ohio, the derailment marks the third in the past month for Norfolk Southern. On Feb. 16, a 135-car Norfolk Southern train derailed approximately 14 miles outside the yard in Romulus, Michigan.

According to the investigative report for that incident, the tonnage profile shows heavy cars at the head of the train, in the middle and in the rear, with empty cars scattered throughout.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg called on the freight rail industry and Congress last month to implement a “three-pronged push” for accountability and to improve safety. This included accelerating the phase-in of safer tank cars, providing workers paid sick leave and raising existing caps on fines for rail safety regulations.

At the end of last year, Congress approved legislation to prevent an impending rail strike, taking up a measure to impose a labor agreement to increase worker pay and provide additional paid leave. While two of the three votes to resolve disputes between freight railroads and their unions passed, the third vote to include seven days of paid sick leave for rail workers as part of the agreement failed.

East Palestine Accident

At approximately 8:55 p.m. ET on Feb. 3, a Norfolk Southern train derailment occurred in East Palestine, Ohio, about 20 miles south of Youngstown and near the Pennsylvania order. About 50 of the 150 train cars had derailed, and of the 20 cars carrying hazardous materials, about 10 were affected.

While no injuries were immediately reported, the derailment resulted in a large fire, prompting evacuations of nearby residents within a mile radius. A shelter-in-place order was also issued for the entire remainder of the town.

While a variety of chemicals were being carried by the train, the chemical of “most concern” in the tankers was vinyl chloride, a carcinogenic gas that’s highly flammable and often used to produce polyvinyl chloride for pipes, wire coatings or plastic kitchenware.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency deployed real-time air monitoring instruments in locations surrounding the fire and the neighboring community to monitor for volatile organic compounds (VOCs) including vinyl chloride and butyl acrylate, carbon monoxide, oxygen, hydrogen sulfide, hydrogen cyanide, phosgene and hydrogen chloride, as well as measuring the flammability of gases in the perimeter.

Additionally, the EPA worked to install booms and underflow dams to restrict the flow of contaminated water in two streams, Sulfur Run and Leslie Run.

Residents were again urged to evacuate on Sunday due to the risk of explosion. In a statement, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine noted that a “drastic temperature change” took place inside a rail car, with the potential for “catastrophic tanker failure.”

That Monday, the Ohio National Guard, the U.S. Department of Defense, DeWine and Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro ordered an immediate evacuation in a one-mile by two-mile surrounding area, citing that the vinyl chloride contents of five rail cars were unstable and could potentially explode.

Residents were warned that anyone in the “red” affected area faced “grave danger of death,” and those in the yellow impacted areas were at high risk of severe injury, including skin burns and serious lung damage. Mayor Trent Conaway reported that everyone had cleared out when officials went door-to-door.

Around 4:30 p.m. on Feb. 6, crews began a “controlled release” of the toxic chemicals from five of the tanker cars that were in danger of exploding. According to reports, flames and black smoke billowed into the sky from the derailment site during the operation. This was attributed to the slow release of vinyl chloride into a trough that was then ignited, creating a large plume.

The process reportedly involved using a small charge to blow a hole in the cars, allowing the material to go into a trench and burning it off before it’s released in the air. Scot Deutsch of Norfolk Southern said that performing the procedure during the day would allow the fumes to disperse more quickly and prevent the rail cars from exploding and sending shrapnel and other debris from flying through the neighborhood.

About three hours later, the railway issued a statement saying that experts and first responders had breached the rail cars, chemicals were burning off and the cars were expected to drain for several more hours. At 7 p.m., the flames were reduced and a small fire continued in the pit. Deutsch told reporters that the remaining fires would go out on their own and wouldn’t be extinguished by crews.

During the controlled burn, the EPA reported that air monitoring detected particulate matter resulting from the fire, but did not detect chemical contaminants of concern in the hours following the controlled burn. They had warned residents in the surrounding area that they may smell odors coming from the site, but the levels are much lower than what is considered hazardous.

Derailment Aftermath

Since then, the EPA has ordered Norfolk Southern to conduct all necessary actions associated with the cleanup from the train derailment. This order also marks the transition from the “emergency phase” to the longer-term remediation phase.

As part of the legally binding order, Norfolk Southern will be required to:

  • Identify and clean up contaminated soil and water resources;
  • Reimburse EPA for cleaning services to be offered to residents and businesses to provide an additional layer of reassurance, which will be conducted by EPA staff and contractors;
  • Attend and participate in public meetings at EPA’s request and post information online; and
  • Pay for EPA’s costs for work performed under this order.

Additionally, the EPA will approve a workplan outlining all steps necessary to clean up the environmental damage caused by the derailment. If the company fails to complete any actions as ordered by EPA, the Agency will immediately step in, conduct the necessary work, and then seek to compel Norfolk Southern to pay triple the cost.

The NTSB also issued its preliminary findings on Feb. 23, with the report indicating that one of the train’s cars carrying plastic pellets was heated by a hot axle that sparked the initial fire. As the temperature of the bearing got hotter, the train passed by two wayside defect detectors that did not trigger an audible alarm message because the heat threshold was not met at that point. A third detector picked up the heat, but it was already “too late.”

A health clinic was opened by the state for residents who have concerns their health was affected by the derailment, as testing for chemicals in the air and water continue. According to reports, the community has reported a “growing number of ailments,” including rashes, nausea and trouble breathing.

   

Tagged categories: Accidents; Environmental Controls; Federal Railroad Administration; Government; Health & Safety; Health and safety; NA; North America; NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board); Program/Project Management; Rail; Railcars; Safety

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