Norfolk Southern Railroad’s own actions worsened the train wreck, which ignited a toxic chain of events that harmed the people of East Palestine, Ohio, according to employees and a lawsuit against the railroad.
Employees say the size of the train — 151 cars, 9,300 feet long, 18,000 tons — was a factor in the accident, according to a CBS report that did not name the employees it interviewed.
The employees said that the train was in trouble before the derailment. According to CBS, the train, which began its journey in Madison, Illinois, had broken down at least once before the Ohio crash.
An employee said the train was too long.
“We should not run 150 car long trains. There should be some limits on the weight and length of trains. In this case, if the train was not 18,000 tons, the effects of the derailment would have been mitigated,” an employee told CBS.
“Workers are exhausted, car inspection time has been cut drastically and there is no regulation on the size of these trains,” said an employee.
Norfolk Southern released a statement saying, “The weight distribution of this train is uniform throughout” and “includes a mid-rail engine that helps manage the train’s dynamic forces.”
Jared Cassity, national legislative director of Norfolk Southern, a union representing workers, cast doubt on the company’s procedures.
“There’s a good chance a derailed car won’t be properly inspected for a while,” Cassity said, according to CBS, which claims the company’s instructions allow inspections for less than a minute.
“You combine that with the added length and tonnage, plus it had all these hazardous materials and it’s predictable. If nothing changes, it will happen again,” he said.
The National Transportation Safety Board said last week it “identified and examined the train car that initiated the derailment” and that surveillance video “appears to have a wheel in the final stages of excessive failure just moments before the derailment.”
Norfolk Southern is facing a class-action lawsuit over the derailment that ultimately said the derailment and toxic cloud that engulfed East Palestine, Ohio, “would never have happened if it had not been for Norfolk Southern’s failure.”
“Train 32N should never be handled in such a careless manner that its wheel bearings fail and cause derailment of the train carrying highly toxic and flammable materials. Even after derailment, the integrity of cars containing highly toxic and flammable materials should not be violated and emergency pressure relief valves should function as designed,” the suit says.
“However, Norfolk Southern layered on even more failures after finding its derailed train in imminent danger of a catastrophic explosion. Norfolk Southern blew holes in its vinyl chloride cars and dumped 1,109,400 pounds of cancer-causing vinyl chloride directly into the environment,” the suit says.
The case tried to put the incident in perspective.
“Norfolk Southern released more cancer-causing vinyl chloride into the environment over a one-week period than all industrial emissions combined,” the suit said, adding that igniting vinyl chloride creates deadly phosgene gas. It has been banned since its use as a chemical weapon in World War I.
“Norfolk Southern ignited a 1 million pound plus chemical burn pit that burned for days and enveloped the plaintiffs and class members in thick black smoke. The resulting mushroom cloud of the fire sent toxic chemicals for miles and across state lines into Pennsylvania,” the suit said.
The lawsuit said the railroad exposed “surrounding communities to chemical warfare agents” and that “instead of cleaning up its mess, plaintiffs and class members were exposed to toxic and harmful chemicals.”
According to CBS, Norfolk Southern suffered another derailment last week. About 30 cars were derailed in Van Buren Township, Michigan.
This article was originally published in The Western Journal.