New Details Emerge About Cause of Ohio Train Derailment

A failed wheel bearing led to the derailment of a Norfolk Southern train in East Palestine, Ohio, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said Thursday.

People in East Palestine, Ohio, have been waiting for answers since the February 3 incident about why 38 of the 149 cars derailed, including some that were carrying toxic chemicals. A subsequent fire caused damage to 12 other cars.

After pressure began to increase inside the train cars, officials conducted a controlled burn to release the chemicals into the environment and prevent an explosion. Since the derailment, East Palestine residents have reported what appears to be chemicals rising from creek beds, dead animals and concerning physical side effects.

The latest NTSB report—released Thursday, more than a week after the previous report that identified the train car that caused the derailment—said that train operators attempted to stop the train when a wayside defect detector sounded a critical alarm that alerted the crew to a hot axle. The train derailed after crews attempted to stop it to inspect the axle.

Norfolk Southern Train Derailed In East Palestine
A Norfolk Southern train derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, on February 3, 2023. The National Transportation Safety Board recently released a report determining that an overheated wheel bearing was the cause. Getty

"Surveillance video from a residence showed what appears to be a wheel bearing in the final stage of overheat failure moments before the derailment," the report said.

NTSB spokesperson Keith Holloway told Newsweek on Thursday that the preliminary report contains only factual information, and the analysis of the facts hasn't yet been completed.

"With that, the wheel bearing has been collected and will be examined by NTSB engineers in the NTSB Materials Laboratory here in Washington, D.C.," Holloway said.

The investigation continues, and the NTSB announced that it will focus the investigation on the train's wheelset and bearings, as well as tank car design and damage from the derailment.

The NTSB said it also would conduct a review of the accident response, as well as the railcar's maintenance procedures and Norfolk Southern's use of wayside defect detectors.

As investigations by the NTSB and EPA continue, support has poured into the East Palestine community. Former President Donald Trump visited on Wednesday, passing out "Trump Water" to residents and expressing his support.

During his presidency, Trump—who is running for president again in the 2024 election—and his administration reversed a rule passed by former President Barack Obama that required trains carrying hazardous flammable materials to have Electronically Controlled Pneumatic (ECP) brakes. But NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy said that the brake rule would not have prevented the accident because the train did not meet the "high-hazard flammable" threshold to require them.

The community, which is heavily Republican, welcomed Trump's visit. Ohio Senator J.D. Vance also visited recently and was concerned at the state of the town's waterways. Erin Brockovich, a whistleblower and environmental activist, was set to visit the town this week. U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who has faced scrutiny for not visiting, also was visiting the area and was set to deliver remarks Thursday after the NTSB report was released.

Newsweek reached out to Norfolk Southern for comment.