UNITED STATES NEWS

Rail union says Virginia derailment renews questions about Norfolk Southern’s safety practices

Jul 7, 2023, 5:28 PM | Updated: 5:58 pm

The union that represents locomotive engineers says a Thursday night coal train derailment in Virginia is renewing questions about Norfolk Southern’s safety practices.

The derailment happened coming down out of the Appalachian Mountains near Elliston about 20 miles (32.19 kilometers) outside Roanoke. Fortunately, it involved coal cars and not hazardous materials like those that generated a huge plume of black smoke and forced evacuations in the eastern Ohio town of East Palestine after a different Norfolk Southern train regulators.

“We’re just lucky right now that it’s coal. If it had been ethanol or LP gas or chlorine or anything like that, it could have been a totally different situation,” said Randy Fannon, who leads the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen union’s safety task force.

Nineteen cars on the Virginia coal train derailed around 7:45 p.m. Thursday but remained upright and none of the coal spilled.

Before the derailment, the crew received a critical alarm from a trackside detector that a wheel bearing was overheating. But unlike in the East Palestine derailment where the crew received little warning, the crew was able to safely stop the Virginia train after it was alerted to the potential hazard.

The train’s conductor found the railcar that triggered the alarm and confirmed the bearing was overheating. But a spokesman for the railroad said all the components appeared to be intact during a visual inspection.

Federal Railroad Administration spokesman Warren Flateau said the railroad decided to try and move the train to a siding, where the crew could safely set out the car with the overheating bearing without blocking the main track. But the train derailed before it reached the siding.

National Transportation Safety Board officials said late Friday they would investigate the Virginia derailment. While union officials and the railroads involved in an NTSB investigation aren’t allowed to speak publicly before that agency releases its findings, Fannon discussed the details of the crash Friday afternoon when the FRA was still leading the investigation. The NTSB had not taken the lead at that time.

Fannon said someone at the railroad’s headquarters in Atlanta who was working on the “hot box detector desk” told the crew to go ahead and move the train 8 miles (12.87 kilometers) down the track. The crew told union officials that they weren’t comfortable with moving the train at the track speed of roughly 40 mph, so they kept the speed to around 20 mph. But the train still derailed.

Spokesman Tom Crosson said Norfolk Southern will use this derailment to help inform changes it is making to improve safety.

“This derailment should never have happened. It is unacceptable,” Crosson said. “We are working to achieve our goal of being the gold standard for safety in the railroad industry, and this incident strengthens our resolve.”

Both the FRA and the NTSB said they were investigating Norfolk Southern’s safety practices following the East Palestine derailment and several others in the past couple years.

The NTSB is doing a detailed investigation to determine everything that contributed to the East Palestine derailment, but investigators blow open five vinyl chloride cars and burn that chemical because they were worried those tank cars might explode.

“NS is still in the spotlight and they’re going to remain that way until they make some changes,” Fannon said.

In years past before Norfolk Southern began overhauling its operations in 2019 and making widespread job cuts, Fannon said the railroad typically would have sent a mechanical inspector to examine the car after an overheating bearing was found to determine if it was safe to move the train. That doesn’t happen anymore after all the cuts to the ranks of inspectors.

“I think the key to this is no qualified mechanical person inspected it,” Fannon said.

Norfolk Southern, like all the major freight railroads, has streamlined its operations over the past several years to reduce costs by relying more on running fewer, longer trains so it doesn’t need as many crews or locomotives. The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen and the other rail unions have said the changes make railroads riskier, spreading employees thin and making it difficult to take the time to properly inspect cars or complete needed preventative maintenance.

The railroads have defended their safety record.

Railroad officials have said they don’t believe the cuts jeopardized safety, and they emphasize that they continue to meet the minimum federal standards. Norfolk Southern’s CEO Alan Shaw has said he believes NS is a safe railroad and that he is committed to improving that.

United States News

Associated Press

Parts of Washington state parental rights law criticized as a ‘forced outing’ placed on hold

SEATTLE (AP) — A judge has paused parts of a new Washington state parental rights law derided by critics as a “forced outing” measure. King County Superior Court Judge Michael Scott on Friday paused portions of the law while a lawsuit brought by civil liberties groups and others is pending, The Seattle Times reported. The […]

4 hours ago

Associated Press

Ex-CEO of Nevada-based health care company Ontrak convicted of $12.5 million insider trading scheme

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The former CEO and chairman of Ontrak, a publicly traded health care company based in Nevada, was found guilty Friday of a multimillion-dollar insider trading scheme. A federal jury in Los Angeles convicted Terren Scott Peizer, a resident of Puerto Rico and Santa Monica, California, of one count of securities fraud […]

7 hours ago

Associated Press

Lockheed Martin subsidiaries reach $70 million settlement for claims they overcharged Navy for parts

STRATFORD, Conn. (AP) — Two Lockheed Martin subsidiaries have agreed to pay the federal government $70 million for overcharging the Navy for aircraft parts, the U.S. Department of Justice announced Friday. The federal agency says Sikorsky Support Services, based in Stratford, Connecticut, and Derco Aerospace, headquartered in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, knowingly entered into an improper subcontract […]

7 hours ago

Associated Press

Man accused in killing and kidnappings in Louisiana waives extradition

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A man arrested in the slaying of a Louisiana woman and abduction of her two daughters and subsequent death of one of them waived extradition Friday in federal court in Mississippi, clearing the way for his return to Louisiana to face trial. During his court appearance in Jackson, Daniel Callihan, 36, […]

7 hours ago

Associated Press

88-year-old Montana man who was getaway driver in bank robberies sentenced to 2 years in prison

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — An 88-year-old Montana man has been sentenced to two years in a federal prison medical facility for being the getaway driver in two bank robberies in Billings last summer, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Montana said. The man was sentenced Thursday after pleading guilty in February to two counts of bank […]

8 hours ago

...

KTAR Video

Video: What makes Arizona roads so dangerous?

New numbers from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows Arizona as one of the most dangerous states for deadly crashes involving red-light runners. Chris & Joe dive deeper into what could be the leading cause behind the newly released stats. Video: Jeremy Schnell and Felisa Cárdenas/KTAR News

8 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...

Midwestern University

Midwestern University Clinic visits boost student training & community health

Going to a Midwestern University Clinic can help make you feel good in more ways than one.

...

Collins Comfort Masters

Here’s how to be worry-free when your A/C goes out in the middle of summer

PHOENIX -- As Arizona approaches another hot summer, Phoenix residents are likely to spend more time indoors.

...

DISC Desert Institute for Spine Care

Sciatica pain is treatable but surgery may be required

Sciatica pain is one of the most common ailments a person can face, and if not taken seriously, it could become one of the most harmful.

Rail union says Virginia derailment renews questions about Norfolk Southern’s safety practices