By Lambert Strether of Corrente.
On February 3, 2023, 38 automobiles of Norfolk Southern prepare 32N derailed in East Palestine, OH. 20 automobiles had been carrying hazardous supplies; a number of burned for greater than two days, after which emergency crews performed a “controlled burn” of the remaining chemical substances:
The consequences of the derailment and subsequent occasions on well being, the air, the water, and the soil are still being sorted.
On February 23, 2023, the Nationwide Transportation Security Board launched its preliminary report on the derailment: “Norfolk Southern Railway Train Derailment with Subsequent Hazardous Material Release and Fires.” From that report:
Whereas on scene, Nationwide Transportation Security Board (NTSB) investigators examined railroad tools and monitor circumstances; reviewed information from the sign system, wayside defect detectors, native surveillance cameras, and the lead locomotive’s occasion recorder and forward-facing and inward-facing picture recorders; and accomplished interviews. NTSB investigators recognized and examined the primary railcar to derail, the twenty third railcar within the consist. Surveillance video from an area residence confirmed what seemed to be a wheel bearing within the closing stage of overheat failure moments earlier than the derailment. The wheel bearing and affected wheelset have been collected as proof and will probably be examined by the NTSB….
Practice 32N was working with a dynamic brake utility because the prepare handed a wayside defect detector on the east facet of Palestine, Ohio, at milepost (MP) 49.81. The wayside defect detector, or scorching bearing detector (HBD), transmitted a vital audible alarm message instructing the crew to sluggish and cease the prepare to examine a scorching axle. The prepare engineer elevated the dynamic brake utility to additional sluggish and cease the prepare. Throughout this deceleration, an computerized emergency brake utility initiated, and prepare 32N got here to a cease.
On the Fort Wayne Line of the Keystone Division, NS has outfitted their rail community with HBD programs to evaluate the temperature circumstances of wheel bearings whereas en route. The perform of the HBD is to detect overheated bearings and supply audible real-time warnings to coach crews. Practice 32N handed three HBD programs on its journey earlier than the derailment. At MP 79.9, the suspect bearing from the twenty third automotive had a recorded temperature of 38°F above ambient temperature. When prepare 32N handed the following HBD, at MP 69.01, the bearing’s recorded temperature was 103°F above ambient. The third HBD, at MP 49.81, . NS has established the next HBD alarm thresholds (above ambient temperature) and standards for bearings:
• Between 170°F and 200°F, heat bearing (non-critical); cease and examine
• A distinction between bearings on the identical axle larger than or equal to 115°F (non-critical); cease and examine
• ; set out railcar After the prepare stopped, the crew noticed hearth and smoke and notified the Cleveland East dispatcher of a attainable derailment.
Or as Railfan and Railroad summarizes: “NTSB: Hot Bearing Caused East Palestine Wreck.”
On February 12, 2022, we wrote, in “How Precision Scheduled Railroading at Norfolk Southern Caused a Toxic Vinyl Chloride Mushroom Cloud Over East Palestine, Ohio“:
If a bearing overheats, it’s referred to as a “scorching field.” The warmth is intense, and may injury the truck and even the automotive. The consequence will probably be a derailment. And the prepare that derailed at East Palestine had a scorching field.
And we concluded:
Little doubt [Norfolk Southern’s owners] are very proud of the Working Ratio that [Norfolk Southern] achieved by way of [Precision Scheduled Railroading]. The chain of causality that begins with the recent field ends at their desks.
So NC received the story proper and early. How did we do this? Easy. Railroad staff on the bottom had been our key sources (hat tip to John Russell of The Holler, who interviewed railroader Clyde Whitaker, chair of SMART native 145 and Ohio Legislative Director; quotes from different staff had been left on the slicing room flooring). Railroad staff on the bottom understood the recent field difficulty, understood how trains are constructed (“blocking”), and understood the consequences of Norfolk Southern’s vicious speedup, Precision Scheduled Railroading, which has slashed headcount by 30%, slicing upkeep usually, and slicing inspections which could have prevented it.
In the meantime, the great people at Lever Information had been all around the story, even (kudos to them) delivering an Op-Ed to the New York Occasions (of which extra later). Nonetheless, they received the story unsuitable. Let’s search on “scorching field”:
Nothing. To be honest, let’s search on the much less idiomatic “bearing”:
And let’s search on “Precision Scheduled Railroading”:
One hit (within the very first story on Feb 8, 2023, as we will see). Here it is:
The identical firms additionally slashed their workforces by practically 30 % in that timeframe as a part of what they referred to as “precision scheduled railroading.” Such staffing cuts are possible contributing to questions of safety in freight railways. In a current investor presentation, Norfolk Southern disclosed a rise in prepare accidents over the previous three consecutive years.
“The large discount within the workforce, attendance insurance policies that encourage folks to return to work once they’re sick or exhausted, lack of entry to [paid] depart, the stress that’s consistently placed on staff due to how lean the workforce has turn into, it creates a destructive tradition by way of security,” Greg Regan, president of the Transportation Trades Division of the AFL-CIO, instructed The Lever.
As you may see, Lever Information under no circumstances connects Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR) to the hotbox that derailed prepare 32N. In reality, doesn’t even point out the hotbox.That’s as a result of Lever Information had and has an alternate concept of the case, unsupported by any proof, and unmentioned within the NTSB’s preliminary report. We are able to see this greatest by placing the laudably exhaustive Lever Information protection within the type of a desk. I learn all of the articles. They’re numbered within the left-hand column for simple reference.
Desk 1: East Palestine Derailment Protection at Lever Information
|Precision Scheduled Railroading||Employees on the Floor||“Scorching Field”||Bearing||Inspections||Paywall||Lever Information Story|
|(1)||☒||☐||☐||☐||☐||☐||(Feb 8, 2023) Rail Companies Blocked Safety Rules Before Ohio Derailment (podcast version)|
|(2)||☐||☐||☐||☐||☐||☐||(Feb 10, 2023) There Will Be More Derailments|
|(3)||☐||☐||☐||☐||☐||☒||(Feb 12, 2023) The Man Responsible|
|(4)||☐||☐||☐||☐||☐||☒||(Feb 14, 2023) Q&A About The Norfolk Southern Train Derailmen (podcast) (no transcript accessible)|
|(5)||☐||☐||☐||☐||☐||☐||(Feb 15, 2023) Buttigieg Pretends He’s Powerless To Reduce Derailment Risks|
|(6)||☐||☐||☐||☐||☐||☐||(Feb 16, 2023 Watch And Share Our Videos On The Derailment Disaster (specifically: “What Caused The Train Derailment In Ohio?”)|
|(7)||☐||☐||☐||☐||☐||☐||(Feb 16, 2023) “Biden DOJ Backing Norfolk Southern’s Bid To Block Lawsuits”|
|(8)||☐||☐||☐||☐||☐||☐||(Feb 17, 2023) Enviros Threaten Legal Action If Buttigieg Doesn’t Act|
|(9)||☐||☐||☐||☐||☐||☐||(Feb 20, 2023) Driving The Narrative|
|(10)||☐||☐||☐||☐||☐||☒||(Feb 22, 2023) How The Lever Forced Buttigieg To Do His Job (transcript)|
|(11)||☒||☒||☒||☒||☒||☒||(Feb 22, 2023) On The Ground In East Palestine (w/ John Russell) (full transcript from John Russell’s The Holler).|
|(12)||☐||☐||☐||☐||☐||☐||(Feb 23, 2023) After Norfolk Southern Support, DeWine Says No Disaster In East Palestine|
|(13)||☐||☐||☐||☐||☐||☒||(Feb 26, 2023) Shadowbanning An Inconvenient Truth|
When an merchandise happens in an article, it’s ☒ed, like “Precision Scheduled Railroading” in (1). In any other case, it’s ☐ed.
Summarizing our outcomes, you may simply see that “Precision Scheduled Railroading” is talked about solely twice, and solely as soon as within the context of the particular derailment. You may also see that bearings/”scorching packing containers,” inspections, and Precision Scheduled Railroading are talked about in just one article, which can also be the one article that makes use of staff on the bottom as sources. And you may see that this text is paywalled, a part of a podcast, and that the complete transcript isn’t accessible on the Lever Information web site. So, to Lever Information, staff are usually not sources, and Precision Scheduled Railroading and its discontents are usually not a part of the story. Which is why they received the story unsuitable. That’s as a result of they’ve a special concept of the case. To know that concept, let’s dig into every of the articles:
From (1), introducing “Brake Principle,” Lever Information’ concept of the case:
Based on federal investigators, the derailment was brought on by a mechanical difficulty with a rail automotive axle. [Steven Ditmeyer, a former senior official at the Federal Railroad Administration] and two different consultants instructed The Lever that [Electronically Controlled Pneumatic (ECP)] braking in all probability would have by the derailment by bringing the prepare to a halt extra shortly and stopping the entire automobiles concurrently.
“If the axle breaks, it’s nearly sure that the prepare goes to derail,” stated John Risch, a former BNSF engineer and nationwide legislative director for the Sheet Steel, Air, Rail, and Transportation Union. “ECP brakes to convey the prepare to a cease. What they do is activate the brakes on every automotive on the identical time instantly. That’s important: While you apply the brakes on a traditional prepare, they brake from the entrance to the rear. The automobiles bunch up.”
Risch stated that ECP brakes are the “most outstanding development” he ever encountered in his 31-year profession as a railroad employee, including: “It must be applied.”
Be aware that The Lever’s sources are unsuitable on the reason for the derailment (it was a “scorching field,” not a damaged axle). Be aware additionally that ECP wouldn’t have prevented the derailment, however solely lowered the injury. Lastly, notice the dearth of employee sources on the bottom. The Lever didn’t supply anyone aware of Practice 32N, or anyone native.
From (2), Brake Principle continues. The headline: “It’s Time For ECP Brakes.” There’s no point out of East Palestine in any respect. It might appear that for Lever Information, the story has congealed by February 10.
From (5), Brake Principle goes political. “A Twitter thread posted greater than every week after Norfolk Southern’s fiery prepare derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, Buttigieg indicated that he can not reinstate an Obama-enacted, Trump-repealed regulation requiring some trains carrying hazardous supplies to exchange their Civil Battle-era braking programs with new Electronically Managed Pneumatic (ECP) brake know-how.”
From (6), Lever Information Editor David Sirota on YouTube (2:12) pushes Brake Principle: “Federal Railroad Administration Regulators instructed us that these brakes that are often known as ECP brakes would have a catastrophe like this and we simply discovered as we speak after the publication of our story Federal officers instructed us that this prepare didn’t have these brakes on the prepare.” Be aware once more the declare that ECP “mitigates.” Nothing is alleged in regards to the trigger of the derailment; that’s, apparently, not a part of the story.
From (8), NGOs begin pushing Brake Principle: “Six environmental teams will take into account authorized motion if the Division of Transportation fails to behave on a key rail security rule, the teams wrote Thursday in a letter to Secretary Pete Buttigieg. The rule in query would pressure railroads to start upgrading freight trains’ Civil Battle-era braking programs to newer, electronically managed brakes permitting for sooner and safer stops.”
From (9), Brake Principle escalates: “[W]e revealed how Norfolk Southern and the railroad trade watered down after which killed laws mandating that railroads begin changing the Civil Battle-era braking programs on some hazmat trains with digital brakes that consultants say may have the Ohio derailment.” Discover how “mitigated” has now modified to “averted or mitigated.”
(11) is the premium model of (10): “That’s it for as we speak’s present. As a reminder, our paid subscribers who get additional time premium will get to listen to our bonus phase, my interview with impartial journalist John Russell, who has been on the bottom in East Palestine for the final couple of weeks talking with railroad staff and union leaders about this prepare derailment catastrophe.” So, once more, the one Lever Information article that mentions staff, scorching packing containers, bearings, and PSR as a explanation for the derailment — that’s, something that conflicts with Brake Principle — is hidden behind a paywall.
(13) Sirota writes: “When The Lever’s rail security reporting all of the sudden dominated the nationwide information cycle, I assumed we had discovered an elusive glitch within the matrix — a narrative so highly effective, so rooted in indeniable proof, and so extensively amplified that its most necessary info couldn’t be manipulated or suppressed.” Besides the Lever Information protection was not rooted “indeniable proof” in any respect. The proof — the bearings/”scorching field”, and the function of Precision Scheduled Railroading — and “necessary info” had been, actually, “suppressed,” as Desk 1 reveals, together with the voices of staff on the bottom, who Lever Information didn’t use as sources.
I discussed the above that Sirota and the Lever Information staff printed an Op-Ed within the New York Occasions, “Over 1,000 Trains Derail Each Yr in America. Let’s Carry That Quantity Down.” On February 17, after a restatement of Brake Principle:
The [Department of Transportation] can require rail firms to deploy warmth sensors often known as hot-box detectors to warn prepare crews of overheated bearings earlier than derailments occur. The sensors don’t at present fall below federal regulation.
Odd to say scorching packing containers on February 17 — once more, NC had mentioned them on February 12, and there have been loads of different sources — and but to not take the following step of revising Brake Principle to a minimum of give consideration to the precise trigger of the derailment. And but in from February 20 onward, in (9), (10), (11), (12), and (13), Brake Principle remained unrevised — it was even escalated from “mitigating” the derailment to “averting” it. Nor had been any staff on the bottom interviewed.
I need to say I’m upset. In case you look how “Brake Principle” frames the East Palestine derailment story from the standpoint of a liberal Democrat, nonetheless, a number of benefits seem: (1) You don’t have to speak to staff on the bottom (as Lever Information didn’t), as a result of who desires that; you may (2) deal with laws and technical options, which liberals love, and above all (3) you don’t have to speak about Precision Scheduled Railroading, particularly after having embarassingly legislated in opposition to a strike by railroad unions over PSR-driven working circumstances. That might, in any case, increase disagreeable questions in regards to the management staff ought to have over working circumstances, and even railroad nationalization. And for a sure type of liberal, shoving the knife into Pete Buttigieg is an added bonus.
In reality, I’m right here for shoving the knife into Mayo Pete in retribution for Iowa 2020. Have at it, say I! I’m all in favor of regulating railroads, and ECB seems like an excellent concept. Nonetheless, if all these comfortable outcomes change into the results of a false concept of the case, and the voices of staff on the bottom are usually not centered, I do have to attract a line.
 I hope I received all of it. I had to make use of Google, which is dangerous, however the Lever Information search perform is worse. Not solely does it give inaccurate outcomes, the outcomes are available in a horrid dropdown, which disappears once you click on on one of many hits, after which it’s important to search once more. Clearly unsuitable for establishing Desk 1:
 On the time I wrote on February 12, there was loads of scorching field video accessible, and loads of railworker chatter about it. I can’t fault Lever Information for not masking this side of the story on February 8, however they by no means revised their subsequent protection; they caught with their concept. The identical is true after thier Op-Ed of February 17.