Wednesday, February 22, 2023
The East Palestine train: How did it travel through towns without a warning label that it was highly hazardous?
How could a train with at least 20 cars of potentially explosive material not have a warning label? “In a press conference following the catastrophic derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, Gov. Mike DeWine expressed difficulty grasping one particular aspect of federal rail regulations,” reports Reid Frazier of The Allegheny Front. DeWine said, “This train … was not considered high-hazardous material train. Frankly, if this is true – and I’m told it’s true – this is absurd, and we need to look at this.”
The reason for the accident is being looked at first. “The National Transportation Safety Board – the federal agency investigating the crash – says it is looking at a damaged wheel bearing on one of the cars in the Norfolk Southern train as a possible cause for the Feb. 3 crash,” Frazier writes. “The derailment, which released toxic chemicals into the streams and air around East Palestine, [has left] many wondering how the country’s regulations around rail traffic could have allowed a train with 20 cars of hazardous material not to be considered a ‘high hazard.’ And could stronger regulations have prevented it from happening? . . . All four U.S. senators from Ohio and Pennsylvania say they’ll push for new rules to prevent a similar disaster in the future.”
“The rules federal regulators wrote a few years ago regarding hazardous train cargo will likely need to be revisited, experts say. These rules were written during a period of high-profile rail accidents involving crude oil trains, including the Lac-Mégantic, Quebec disaster in 2013 that killed 47,” Frazier reports. “The final rules, published in 2015, mandated tighter regulations for ‘high-hazard flammable trains.’ But the government defined these as trains carrying crude oil and other liquid fuels. Flammable gases like vinyl chloride were excluded from the regulations, against the recommendations of the National Transportation Safety Board. . . . Regulators allowed exemptions in the rules that the Norfolk Southern train was operating under when it derailed,” Frazier writes. A 2015 regulation defines high-hazard train as one “comprised of 20 or more loaded tank cars of a Class 3 flammable liquid in a continuous block or 35 or more loaded tank cars of a Class 3 flammable liquid across the entire train.”
Frazier reports, “The NTSB also recommended these trains have electronically controlled pneumatic braking systems, which studies have shown are better than the kinds of air brakes that were on the Norfolk Southern train. The rules originally mandated that these trains have electronic brakes. But after lobbying by the rail industry, the Trump administration rescinded those rules. So far, the Biden administration has not yet signaled an appetite to revisit them.”