CLEVELAND — The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has released its preliminary report on the Feb. 3 trail derailment in East Palestine, pointing to an overheated axle as the cause.
The axle was on the 23rd car of the Norfolk Southern freight train.
The NTSB's findings show the wheel bearing was 253 degrees over the temperature it should have been - and Norfolk Southern's standards, cause for an inspection and disconnection of the car.
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"At that point, grease is burning. That's what we believe," says Jim Scott, a railroad consultant with over 50 years of experience. He says the axles are much like tires, they have to be inspected and replaced when needed.
"They (axles) come factory sealed. There’s never any lubrication put in them as a matter of maintenance at all by the railroad. They're sealed," Scott adds.
Video released after the derailment shows a wheel sparking while the train is moving on the tracks. "All the lubrication has gone from that roller bearing and that's why it's heating up," Scott explains. "It's failing. And when it's gone, it's gone. It will eventually just fall off."
The report indicates the crew - who are not suspected of any wrongdoing - was alerted of the axle's rising temperature twice by what is called a "hot box detector" located on the tracks.
"They detect heat from the journals, which is the hub of the wheel on the rail cars," explains John Hiatt, a railroad investigator and former locomotive engineer. Hiatt adds that the detectors were invented as cabooses were eliminated and trains got longer.
"A long train, the only way that you can inspect your journal to make sure they're not hot and smoking is visually," Hiatt adds. "You just can't do that with one or two persons on the locomotive."
The NTSB says its still investigating inspection reports, the wheel itself, and collecting facts. However, the bottom line is the agency says the derailment was "100% preventable."
Meanwhile, the NTSB adds that Norfolk Southern is cooperating with the investigation. The company has pledged nearly $8 million to East Palestine.
However, 3News Investigates found that Norfolk Southern made nearly $12 billion last year, making their donation to the village just a fraction of what it earns in a day.
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