Federal Officials Inspect Site of Train Derailment
EAST PALESTINE, Ohio – Just a day ahead of the announced visit of U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, officials from the Federal Railroad Administration and Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration toured the site of the Feb. 3 train derailment in the village.
FRA Administrator Amit Bose and PHMSA Deputy Administrator Tristan Brown were on hand during a scheduled inspection of the 11 derailed tank cars involved in the Norfolk Southern incident, along with firefighters, rail car owners, support staff from Norfolk Southern and the National Transportation Safety Board, the agency investigating the cause of the derailment.
The preliminary report of the NTSB is expected to be released today. The announcement of the inspection listed it as a necessary step in the ongoing investigation to identify the failure mode and mechanism, check the conditions of the tank cars that do not comply with the regulation or design requirement and to photograph and document the tank cars.
On Wednesday afternoon, as residents and supporters of former President Donald Trump lined North Market Street on both sides of the railroad tracks awaiting his visit, another train moved much slower than usual through town. The train included a long line of tanker cars all bearing the hazardous materials placards on the side of them, leading some residents to question when this will happen again.
Life in East Palestine has been flipped upside down since the derailment, subsequent evacuations and controlled explosion on Feb. 6, which was chosen by those reportedly seeking to avoid a catastrophic explosion. In yet the latest twist, Trump and his entourage on Wednesday visited an area near Little Beaver Creek, the East Palestine Clark Street Fire Station along the tracks and an unscheduled stop at the local McDonald’s.
That was the same McDonald’s that put East Palestine in the national spotlight in 2017 when an 8-year-old boy learned to drive on YouTube and took his 4-year-old sister in the family van through the drive-thru for a cheeseburger.
With the East Palestine schools closed Wednesday, children were plentiful downtown, many holding signs or wrapped up in Trump flags against the cold rain that fell. Many voiced excitement that the former president was coming but grew weary of waiting when no time for his arrival was given. The announced visit to the village came without a large event for residents to attend, so many looked for street corners or vantage points to watch from their vehicles.
Some chants for Trump or “Let’s Go Brandon” could be heard as people entertained themselves while they waited. Nationally, some have criticized Trump-era reversals of efforts to increase the safety of railroads, including newer technology such as electronic brakes for oil rail tankers.
On Thursday, Buttigieg will be the latest official to come to the village, with his visit coming after criticism of his lack of attention to the derailment. However, earlier this week Buttigieg announced a push for an increase in railroad safety regulations, paid sick leave for railroad workers and raising the cap of fines that can be levied against railroads for violations.
Trump was the latest to arrive in East Palestine with water. On Wednesday, state Rep. Mike Loychik of Bazetta, R-65th, and the Ohio and Gas Workers Association provided bottled water, with OGWA President Matt Boday of Odessa, Texas, pledging to send multiple semitrucks of water for residents.
While Ohio EPA tests continue to show the municipal water is safe, many continue to drink bottled water out of precaution. Those with private well water have been urged by officials to also drink bottled water until their well water is tested with favorable results.
In response to residents’ concerns, Norfolk Southern announced Wednesday that is will excavate the soil and replace the tracks in the derailment area as part of an “enhanced remediation plan.” Work on the first rail line will begin immediately, the company said, with the second line to be replaced directly after.
“Our original plan would have effectively and safely remediated the soil under our tracks. As I listened to community members over the past two weeks, they shared with me their concerns about that approach,” said CEO Alan H. Shaw. “I appreciate the direct feedback, and I am addressing it. In coordination with Ohio and U.S. Environmental Protection Agencies, we are changing our remediation plan to temporarily remove the tracks so we can excavate the soil.”
The company said it has excavated more than 4,800 cubic yards of soil, and 1.7 million gallons of liquid have been collected for disposal.
Residents concerned about their health following the derailment are urged to go to the Health Assessment Clinic in East Palestine, which Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff announced will now have expanded services. Vital signs will be taken and a physician will conduct medical examinations. The clinic also has the support of toxicology experts and mental health specialists.
Those wishing to schedule an appointment can call 234 564 7755 or 234 564 7888. A poison-control hotline has been established exclusively for those in the East Palestine area. Call 877 603 0170.
Pictured at top: People gather in the rain near barricades hoping to catch a glimpse of former President Donald Trump near the East Palestine fire hall Wednesday morning as security waits on a rooftop and a Norfolk Southern train goes past.
Copyright 2023 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.