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Rail News: Federal Legislation & Regulation

NTSB to release East Palestine report in spring, early summer

NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy in 2023 announced the board would hold a rare investigative hearing as part of its investigation into the hazmat train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio.
Photo – NTSB Newsroom/X


The National Transportation Safety Board will meet in late spring or early summer to discuss its final investigative report of the Feb. 3, 2023, derailment of a Norfolk Southern Railway train in East Palestine, Ohio, Chair Jennifer Homendy said yesterday.

Homendy reported the NTSB's timeline in response to a question from U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.) during a hearing of the House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials. The hearing was held to discuss railroad grade crossing elimination and safety.

Larsen asked Homendy why the report was taking more than a year to be released. Homendy said the board's investigations typically take two years to complete; the East Palestine investigation will be wrapped up in a year plus a couple of months.

"This was a very complex investigation with a lot of complex information," said Homendy. "Plus, we had a two-day hearing in June, which revealed other information that we wanted to dig into. It does take time to get to the right answers."

The derailment occurred when an NS train carrying general merchandise and hazardous materials derailed the night of Feb. 3. Thirty-eight rail cars derailed, and the hazardous materials in some of the cars subsequently ignited, fueling fires that damaged additional non-derailed rail cars. Some of the tank cars carried vinyl chloride.

By Feb. 5, emergency responders mitigated the fire, but the vinyl chloride tank cars continued to concern authorities because the pressure valve relief devices on the cars had stopped operating. The temperature of those cars continued to rise, which concerned authorities that a potential explosion could occur, sending flying tank-car parts into the community. NS and other authorities determined that a vent-and-burn operation would be necessary to prevent an explosion from occurring.

The vent-and-burn operation began in the afternoon on Feb. 6; the released vinyl chloride burned throughout the night; the clearing of the debris began on Feb. 7; and residual fires were extinguished by noon Feb. 8.

In a preliminary report, the NTSB said its investigation would focus on the role that wheel bearings and wayside defect detectors may have had in the derailment’s cause. In June 2023, the NTSB took the unusual step of holding an investigative field hearing in East Palestine.

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